Saturday, July 30, 2005


I'll be out ferrying children to camps and elsewhere for a few days--if you're new, just poke around the site and find what you like. Be sure and answer Linda's five questions! --Marly

Marly at home, with a Seagrove chicken

Friday, July 29, 2005

Brian Railsback + Quote for the day!

Here's novelist Brian Railsback, who will be stopping by to talk about publishing and other matters... There's more about him elsewhere in the blog. Quote for the day: "I have been told, both in approval and in accusation, that I seem to love all my characters. What I do in writing of any character is to try to enter into the mind, heart, and skin of a human being who is not myself. Whether this happens to be a man or a woman, old or young, with skin black or white, the primary challenge lies in making the jump itself. It is the act of a writer’s imagination that I set most high." --from Eudora Welty, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The apple that falls near the tree--Hope Vestergaard

Ingrid has reminded me that one of her daughters, Hope Vestergaard, is the author of children's books. She has a site that includes lots of info of interest to both teachers and writers,

And like our seminar members, she has been both teacher and writer: "I read hundreds of books to babies and toddlers when I was a teacher. I wanted to know what made certain books captivating. Why did kids care about stories I thought were boring? Why weren’t they interested in stories I thought were beautiful? I started wondering if my stories and words could capture young children’s attention too."

Her site tells you about the sources of her stories, gives advice about "getting started" and "getting published." Here are some of her articles:
NEW! Procrastinators R' Us
NEW! Procrastination, part II: Do Try This at Home, Folks!
NEW! Critique Group Dysfunction: What to Do About It
This one, originally published in the 2005 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (Writer's Digest Books), might be especially meaningful to us, as it's a good reminder about what to look for and how to be a useful to others.
KINDA NEW! Rhymes and Misdemeanors
Flipping Pancakes With a Shovel:
Crafting Compelling Books for Young Readers
Get Booked: Creating Promotional Materials
That Stand Out in a Crowd
Counting Chickens: A few Words about Word Counts
Get Real: A Writer's Journey
Great Expectations: A Conference Crib Sheet
An Interview with Literary Agent Steven Malk
Novel Ideas: An Interview with Author Kezi Matthews
Meet the Editor: An Interview with Stephanie Owens Lurie
Meet Novelist Kathleen O'Dell: A Work in Progress

If you want to share any of this information electronically, be sure that you contact Hope by email and include her credit. If you would like to get in touch with her, she has a contact page ( You can see her in a cute knock-kneed pose there as well!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Postscript to the last post! More about Ingrid--

If you want to ask Ingrid Hill anything, feel free to ask in the comments. And if you would like to know more about her books, here are some interesting places to go.

Her site:

Artist of the Month at IMAGE:

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A greeting to NCCAT from Ingrid Hill

Hi, everyone. I'm another e-buddy of Marly's dropping in with my shillingsworth. (That's inflation for you: it used to be two cents.) I'm a first-time novelist and I've just returned from my dozen-city book tour, which was a lot like being on a carnival ride that decides to go backward. Dizzying, at the very least.

I thought I'd pick up on a thread from Marjorie's post about the question of how much reality (fact, info) is required in the writing of fiction. I had an interesting question from the audience the other day, at McIntyre's bookstore in Fearrington Village, NC.

A man who happened to be the father of my editor at Penguin showed up, having read my novel (Ursula, Under) and having especially loved the sense of detail in it. Now this has been true with each audience, that SOMEONE will ask about the research, but the particular scene to which he was referring brought up a whole new question.

Earlier audiences asked about historical chapters of the novel, especially one ("The Alchemist's Last Concubine") that introduces a Taoist alchemist in the third century B.C. in what is today Sichuan province, the People's Republic of China. For that chapter I had some background, having studied two years of Chinese in grad school and been three times to China itself. But when I began researching, knowing only that I wanted to use a character who was an alchemist, I really got my socks knocked off. Turned out TAOIST alchemy was not, unlike western alchemy, seeking to produce gold from base metals, but to find the recipe for the elixir of immortality. That was perfect for me, since the novel is about family, in a longitudinal sense: heredity and offspring, another form of "immortality." In the course of that research, when I found that Taoist practice involved, um, eye-rollingly wonderfully named sexual positions that to my western mind sound hilarious and of course un-pictur!e-able, I couldn't pass that up. So that had to be included too, offstage, referred-to but undescribed so that the reader's imagination must kick in. Not like a romance novel, more like comedy at an odd angle.

But my editor's father's question was about a present-day scene that no one else has mentioned. In this scene, a Wal-Mart truck driver, Joe Cimmer, who has left his wife and son when the child was two years old-- doesn't know why, never did, has been anguishing about it and fantasizing that he'll go home but never quite getting up the courage-- is in a Super Wal-Mart in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the middle of the night, dropping a load. He walks around the store in a daze picking up this item, then that, berating himself about his failed life, and suddenly sees on two dozen screens, an upper and lower bank of televisions, a rescue attempt. A little girl-- who is Joe's grandchild, though he has no idea he HAS a grandchild-- has fallen down a mine shaft in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, just a few hours away. My editor's father went absolutely ecstatic over the detail in that scene, and he asked how I'd researched that. I told him I'd tried to do it straightforwardly, by phoning Wal-Mart and asking to interview someone. Well, duh: who answers the phone, no matter where you call, but someone who is nineteen and afraid to say anything but also unwilling to pass you along to someone who DOES know something, because the phone person thinks he/she might get fired for not knowing. Oh, grief. So nobody, at several different levels, would help me, because there is no "box" for the category "novelist seeking info about Wal-Mart truckers' procedures and lifestyles." Finally (I'm pathologically persistent) I got to a person higher-up-- who got there by NOT being a creative thinker-- who said, "You know, since September eleventh we have to be very careful about terrorists. They could use any information we gave them." Oh, my. So I gave up.

But not really. I asked my muse to arrange something, and so one day when I was driving out Highway Onein Iowa City, passing the Wal-Mart where I shop, a Wal-Mart freight truck was heading in my direction. I felt it calling out to me, like, "Your muse sent me." So I did a quick u-turn and followed the truck to the loading dock. I stood like a nice little schoolgirl smiling up at the trucker, told him my situation, and asked if he'd have a little time to talk with me. Yuuup, he did. I got so much EXCELLENT information that then allowed me to build scene and plot and character development on it that I gave my muse a promotion. Bottom line, the rule is: whatever it takes to get what you need to write what you want, take it to the limit. Just do it.

* * *

About Ingrid Hill

Ingrid is another one of those people I met through words--she read one of my stories in the Raleigh paper and contacted me through an editor there. Something like that is always wonderful, because it means that one writer finds something "kindred" in another. We've been in touch by email for years now.

Her new book is doing well and will continue to do so, I think. Here's a quote from a recent feature/interview with her at "Author Ingrid Hill speaks in a thoughtful, graceful way that manages to be cerebral yet refreshingly open. One has only to read a few pages of her splendidly complex book, Ursula, Under, to see those qualities at work. The book, about culture, bloodlines, and sometimes surprising connections, is also about poetically precise writing. It was included on the longlist for the Orange Prize, a finalist for Virginia Commonwealth University’s First Novel Prize, a winner of the Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction, on a Washington Post list of Best Books, and is a Christian Century pick, along with Ha Jin’s War Trash and Philip Roth’s Plot Against America." For the rest, jump to

Sunday, July 24, 2005

"The Lie That Tells a Truth"

I finished Dufresne this afternoon, well behind some of you. He is a good fit for our class; several of the very specific things I planned long ago might well have been inspired by the book!

At the close, he makes the interesting statement that "I passionately believe in what I'm saying, but I'm wrong about it all."

Did you find that particular ideas, sentences, or exercises were striking or useful? I've received several email notes about the book from seminar members, and a number of people have posted comments already, so I know that it has been well received so far.

Perhaps you liked the book but did not always agree with the author. Dufresne invites you "to disagree with me. Send me a letter and straighten me out." Here's your chance!

Add a comment about what elements you especially liked; add one about what you didn't like...


Thursday, July 21, 2005


Click HERE to jump to the May archives on my blog, then scroll down until you find May 20th. There you can find out how (no, it's not hard!) to sign up for a chance for a free book (Ingledove, my May 2005 book from FSG.) Nine more days...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

NCCAT Questions & Links, newly updated

Questions from NCCAT teacher-writers

Last year I had a page on my web site ( devoted to answering questions from the 2004 NCCAT seminar--these were questions people wrote on cards during the seminar. Since I couldn't answer them all in the week, I answered some later. Some will match with your own questions. If you hop over to my news blog,, you can find the complete list of answered questions from 2004 in the Sunday, July 17 post.


Underneath the questions you will find a list of links. These listings are identified by topic and can help you find all sorts of things--information about agents, children's writing, editors, revision checklists, etc. Those of you who have already asked about publishing and agents may find them of particular interest. I have not tried to link to everything under the sun, because that would be too much, and many of the general book blogs on the list already have comprehensive lists.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Thinking about what we might be--

For a few very special days, we can have what almost nobody who wants to write ever gets--time to write, talk, and dream inside the shelter of a community of other writers. That's a fertile place to be. It's a haven where you don't have to explain what you do or why you do it.

This isn't an NCCAT seminar where we make a solar car or study for boards. A lot of what we'll do is about intangibles--ones that we'll try to grasp and not let slip through our fingers. That means that the week will be, in great part, what you make of the opportunity given.

We're working to have a tight structure to the days and lots of fun and learning, it will have to be you with the pencil and the piece of paper. Or the computer screen and the flying fingers!


Monday, July 18, 2005

A welcome from Ron Rash

Hello, all.

As a former high school teacher myself, I look forward to meeting all of you and discussing short stories. I'm sure it will be a great time for us all.

--Ron Rash

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Corey Mesler talks to NCCAT about that little matter of dialogue

Writers meet in funny ways. I "met" Corey Mesler after he wrote a review of one of my books, and I wrote him a thank you note.

He is a fascinating character who does two huge and nigh-impossible things: he runs a well-known independent bookstore in this age of chains and internet sales; he writes novels and poetry.

I asked him to write something about dialogue for us.

--Corey, will you write something about dialogue for us?
--After all, you wrote a book entirely in dialogue.
--I don't know how to do this.
--Here it is, but I still don't know how to do this.

Thanks, Corey!

And here it really is--

* * * * * * * * * *

Talk about Talk

--Your novel did well.
--If you mean by doing well that it was published.
--Yes, but it got some nice reviews.
--It did, from friends.
--What else could you want?
--Nothing, nothing. I’m not ungrateful.
--It sure had a lot of sex in it.
--Are you working on a sequel?
--No, not really. Except in the sense that you are now in it.
--Meaning is drained of meaning. Though she feels as if she’s in a play she is anyway.
--More postmodern tricks.
--No tricks. Nothing up my dust jacket.
--More autobiographical libidinous reflection and refraction.
--I am not Jim.
--Right, and I am not the product of your self-referential imagination.

COREY MESLER once wrote a novel called : A Novel in Dialogue. It is entirely in dialogue. Some people liked it. Few people bought it. Nevertheless he still tries to limn the infinite, or at least take a potshot at the lengthy. He now has a 2nd novel due in December 2005, a hippie amalgam called We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon. He hopes the same nobodies who didn’t buy his first book will not line up to not buy his second. With his lovely and more centered wife he owns Burke’s Book Store in Memphis TN, one of the oldest independent bookstores (1875) in the known universe.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Ready, set--

Getting ready for NCCAT is going to be different for each one of us.

I'm still reading Dufresne and planning out segments of the seminar--and trying to keep up with this pre-seminar blog. Meanwhile I'm ferrying my three children here and yon and making sure they're having a good summer. (Last night the nearest ball team beat the Batavia Muck Dogs! Yankees. Go figure.) Here and there are long ferrying-to-camp trips. Or to the orthodontist. I seem to be very big on the orthodontist. Then there's life's other little drudgeries (laundry for five and other fascinating enterprises) and errands. I'm wanting to do my own work, though I haven't been doing as well as usual on that one. Children don't really need a writer in the house.

You're probably still reading Dufresne as well. And I hope you're reading a bit of fiction.

Meanwhile Donna has already posted two exercises, including one that's a sort of puzzle box containing a fiction inside a fiction, where one of the characters fictionalizes reality. In the process of doing so, she finds out that truth really is stranger than fiction--truth fictionalized yields big truths.

Please pop over to her site and give a quick response and encouragement; don't worry about saying anything profound. Just jump in!

And feel free to post something as well.

Again, each person's preparation for NCCAT will be different, and that's fine. What I'd like to see is movement toward a community of writers, so that we're all ready to go full tilt when we meet on that Monday afternoon.

If you've just found your way here, go down to the first entry and find a welcome!


Friday, July 15, 2005

Dufresne & exercises

Were you interested in the exercises? Want more to read?

You can try out The Bunny Planet exercise, play with Phone Tag, or experience Synesthesia.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Philip Lee Williams responds to a question

This post is in reply to a question Linda asked Phil in the comments section below his earlier contribution. After seeing it, I felt that we should put the response as a separate entry instead of in the comments because it's lengthy and thoughtful and will be of interest to NCCAT teachers.

If you look at the note about Phil under his original post, you'll see that he's a busy fellow, so I'm very glad he took the time to reply in full.

Phil has lots of interesting things happening with his books. He has a goodly number of paperback reprints of novels coming out, including a revival of his very first book. His twelfth book, a nonfiction book about "morning," was just accepted. And he didn't mention that winning The Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction for A Distant Flame is something that just happened. That's a national award sponsored by the United States Civil War Center at Louisiana State University. The presentation ceremony moves to a new region of the country each year, and Phil accepted his in Boston less than a month ago. Congratulations!


* * * * * * * * * * *

Hi, Linda--

Getting students to focus on their work is always hard. Last spring semester, I had seven graduating seniors out of 15 students in an advanced creative writing class at the University of Georgia, and keeping them on target was hard.

In general, I think it's a matter of the teacher's genuine love of the material and the students--something that can't be faked. Brother, have I had bad days when I was miserable at it. But most of the time, they aren't going to be any better than I am, so I wildly over-prepare--have backup plans if they are half asleep. I meet with all my students individually at least once during the semester and encourage them to come by during office hours. I also send them two or three e-mails a week as a group to encourage camaraderie.

I'm also pretty scrupulous about not letting workshop get rough--I encourage constructive criticism but will cut off nasty comments instantly--if it's personal, it won't be tolerated.

If I see a student who's struggling, I'll ask her or him to stay after class, and I'll listen or talk. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to talk to women students who have just broken up with boyfriends and are quitting everything. Just listening gets them back on track most of the time--and letting them know I care.

My general advice is to make each class period as intense as everyone can stand. Don't be afraid to be rapturous about texts or to follow the flow of a conversation as long as it reasonably has something to do with the subject.

Hope this helps!

Phil Williams

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

New posts & a place for posting sketches and stories

We're growing. . .

Please check out and respond to new posts from Jennifer, Shelly, Miriam, Donna, and Vanessa.

Donna has put a link to her livejournal site in the comments, and she has posted several new sketches there. Please take a look and comment! I'll add the link again here. Her site is

If you'd like to post some writing in response to the exercises in Dufresne's book or anything else you're working on now, feel free to post a piece in the comments below this entry.

I've added a message from Marjorie Hudson below this post--she's an interesting writer living in Chatham County.

And now I need to go read more Dufresne and work on the seminar!


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A message to NCCAT from Marjorie Hudson

Some years ago a number of people told me that I "needed" to meet Marjorie Hudson, that she had written about a novel of mine, Catherwood, in her nonfiction book, Searching for Virginia Dare. As a girl in the Carolinas, I had daydreamed a good bit about Virginia Dare, child of the Lost Colony...

Eventually I "met" Marjorie via email. Some day I hope to see her in Pittsboro.

Last year I read her novel-in-manuscript that's now making the rounds, and I feel sure it will find a home. I recently suggested that she write something about moving from nonfiction to fiction for our NCCAT group. And so she has.



* * * * * * * * *

Marly asked me to write something about my process as a writer. Lots of what I write is very tied to the land, it's as if I'm haunted by the landscape--the sounds, the smells, the soil, the history. I'm here at Headlands Center for the Arts, in the rolling hills outside Sausalito, writing about North Carolina and the long lost Tuscarora tribe. I have palm trees outside my window, for goddsake. Somehow, the mind is able to process and work in a world of its own.

I'm making a transition during the past year from working in creative nonfiction to working solely in fiction. I loved writing my first book and I especially loved traveling around, going to libraries, interviewing scholars, going to archeology sites, doing the research to get the facts. Turns out, though I'm writing fiction, I'm still doing research. One of my fiction characters, very inconveniently, has decided to write a book. It's a scholarly book about Dawin and Wallace and bird migration. I think he's crazy, but the really bad part is I have to do the research so he can write--or pretend to write--his book. My character actually has writer's block, but I don't need to research that part. I have that every day before I hit the keyboard. I do need to know why he's so interested in this subject--some fantastic stories about his life in Malaysia.

A really interesting question for me with this novel is "How much can I make up? How much has to be deadly accurate?" I know the emotions must be deadly accurate. My question is about details about life. For example, I invented a hybrid or extinct subspecies of pine tree that is a "relict" variety for my North Carolina novel. I knew just what I wanted them to look like, but had to see if there really was anything like that, so I contacted an expert. Turns out my tree is completely made up. I'll have to decide if I want it to be an unknown, rare variety, or if I want it to be just a stand of trees that happens to grow large. How will that affect the themes in my story? Very good question.

One of my characters sells heirloom varieties of potatoes at a farmers market. In one of her chapters, she is thinking about how much she loves Peruvian Blue potatoes, and she is trying to convince a reluctant buyer to try them, and she says "look, they stay blue when you cook them." Now, I have read a lot about gardens and I go to a farmers market a lot, I used to even sell at a farmers market, but I don't really truly remember if they stay blue or even are blue. So I am going to have to check that out. For one thing, tonight I am reading an excerpt for some chefs and friends and by golly they will know the answer! So I have to get it right, or my character won't be believable. My character practically swoons over Peruvian blue potatoes.

Meanwhile, I've got a character who is a 20-year-old Downs Syndrome man. I write small sections from his point of view. Even though I am close to several 20-something Downs Syndrome people, and I felt I had some background knowledge about how D.S. works, I knew I would have to look it up so I could address the issue of his sexual development, a key issue in the story. At some point I will probably run his sections by a doctor or development specialist. I don't want to be disrespectful by getting it wrong.

--from Marjorie Hudson, Artist in Residence, Headlands Center for the Arts. Hudson is author of Searching for Virginia Dare (creative nonfiction, Coastal Carolina Press) and Gone Forever, Be Back Soon, a novel (in submission to agents). Her novel-in-progress is tentatively called Accidental Birds.

Monday, July 11, 2005


We're in a little bit of a waiting mode, as only five of us are on-line so far. Keep up the comments, those who are on!

Next up: Memphis bookseller, novelist, and poet Corey Mesler with a piece about his novel-in-dialogue; North Carolina author Marjorie Hudson on the shift from nonfiction to fiction; Deb Bohlmann on starting a writer's group in St. Louis, MO. We'll have chat, mini-articles, and greetings from other writers as the time moves on toward our seminar.

If you'd like to ask a question of somebody who drops in as a guest blogger--like Philip Lee Williams, much-published Georgia author, who has already greeted us--you can post that on the comments below his or her blog entry. I'll try to solicit a response.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

A note on adding "comments"

When you click on comments and add your own thoughts to a post, ignore the blogger identity. (Linda, Carrie, and I are down as blogger.) If you want to ask a question and don't want your name attached, use anonymous. If you want to make a comment, choose other. A box will pop up asking for your name and web page. Just ignore the web page request unless you have one you want to note. Then use your own name as user name!


P. S. I'm reading Dufresne (Linda's pick) and like it, though I wish the print were a tad larger . . .

P. P. S. Carrie sent me the link to her new web site, and I'm going to add it to the links (at right). So now you can visit her there as well.

P. P. P. S. Don't forget to start down at the foot of the page with the Welcome.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Greetings to NCCAT from writer Philip Lee Williams

Philip Lee Williams and I were supposed to be on a panel together back in 2001, but he became ill and never made it to the Southern Festival of the Book that year. But we've been pen pals since, and when I asked him if he wanted to write a note to our seminar members, he said sure.

You can see that he's prejudiced when it comes to me! For that and for this, I owe him a thanks.


* * *

A greeting from Philip Lee Williams

The seminars sound wonderful this year, and I hope that many people will take advantage of working with Marly Youmans—one of America’s finest writers and my pen pal for years now.

I’m primarily a novelist—my latest book is A Distant Flame, which came out from St. Martin’s last fall and will appear in paperback from St. Martin’s-Griffin this autumn. But I’m deeply intrigued by the short-fiction form.

I teach creative writing at the University of Georgia, and I suppose I’ve heard as much as anyone that you “can’t teach creative writing.” It’s possible that’s true, but I can guarantee that a person can LEARN it. And choosing mentors to guide you through writing and reading is the key to it all.

Most of all, success in creative writing combines hard work and joy. There really isn’t another way to do it. I guess that’s why it’s satisfying, even for those of us who aren’t Stephen King-brand bestsellers and don’t especially want to be. The pleasure in publishing changes over the years, but the joy of writing doesn’t, really. That’s why studying writing and learning to do it better is so wonderful.

Not everyone is meant to publish in New York. Some are destined to write loving family histories, the stories of their churches, or even the times of their own lives. I believe there’s just as much nobility and honor in those, and such events as the NCCAT Writing Seminar in Cullowhee are beautiful places to start.

I can’t imagine living in that area and not being intrigued. Take a chance. What you have to gain can be beautiful.

--Philip Lee Williams

* * *

To learn more about Phil’s twelve books and his upcoming work (as well as his accomplishments as poet, composer, producer, and more), visit him at

Philip Lee Williams is the author of 11 published books, including nine novels. Three of his books will come out in paperback this fall. His novel A Distant Flame (St. Martin's) won the national 2004 Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War fiction. He is also a widely published poet, and documentaries he has written and co-produced have won a number of awards, including from The New York Film Festival. He teaches at the University of Georgia and lives near Athens, Ga., with his wife and daughter.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Linda Kinnear

Hi. I'm Linda Kinnear, NCCAT Center Associate, who is so looking forward to working with this seminar. Having taught composition at WCU for many years, I have a special interest in how the writing process works for the professional writer as well as that reluctant writer struggling in your classrooms with the writing test.

Soon, you should be receving the mailing NCCAT sends out prior to the seminar. Included in this mailing is the text we will be reading and referencing in the blog and during the seminar. I chose this text primarily for its many interesting and challenging prompts and great choice of quotes. Many of these prompts should be fairly easy to adapt into classroom writing assignemts. Please feel free to bring some of your own writing prompts and quotes. I think you will agree that Dufresne has a pretty good handle on what a writer must do to write and how what we read, listen to and observe all shape what we write. I'd like to see some discussion of this book on this blog...if your time permits.

Like Carrie and Marly, I want to briefly welcome you to the seminar, and especially thank Marly for finding the time to get this blog up and running. So, as soon as possible, please write a comment and introduce yourself and perhaps your highest hopes and wildest dreams about writing...later. Linda PS: I will need your PARTICIPANT DATA SHEET as soon as possible.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Carrie Gates

I've lifted Carrie's comments off the prior post's "comments" because I think they deserve their very own entry . . . We'll have Linda do a post soon.

Why is the image smaller than the other posted jackets? When I try to make the image larger, it ricochets around the page like Monty Python's killer rabbit.

In fact, the sizes vary throughout, because they came to me in various sizes, and I don't appear to be very good at changing the sizes. The ones downloaded from bookseller sites are identical, but the others are bigger or smaller.

--Marly, computer idiot

* * *


I'm Carrie Gates, Center Fellow at NCCAT. I will be working with you during this seminar week. I have been at NCCAT for close to 19 years. I came as a graduate assistant while I was working on my master's at WCU, and sort of never left! I am currently working on my doctorate in Adult Education through NC State, I'm currently in the research and writing stage, I'm studying teacher burnout! I'm sure you can all help me with information on that topic!

Marly Youmans and I are old friends, and Linda Kinnear and I have worked together for several years. The three of us have spent quite some time planning for this seminar, and have high hopes for our week together. My greatest wish is that we will have both a great time, and learn together.

To tell you something about myself, I'm from the mountains of Western NC, you can tell just as soon as I open my mouth! I am a first generation high school graduate, and enjoy sharing the culture of the mountains with friends. I am married and have three daughters, Carolyne, 29, Sarah, 24, and Ashley, 10. My husband and I are into houses, we buy old houses and restore them, and are currently building a spec house to sell this summer. We also own an old time general store and soda fountain in the nearby town of Dillsboro. He runs the store, and I simply help him with going to trade shows and choosing what to carry. I enjoy spending money!

Personally, I just published a book of stories I've been collecting from family and friends over the years, Granny's Stories: North Carolina Mountain Tales. I've really enjoyed the entire process: creating the book, publishing it, and working to distribute it. To hear more about it, check out my website, I hope we will be able to create a small book and publish it as part of this seminar. I'm looking forward to meeting all of you and working together.

Carrie Gates

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A little note about navigation & the questionaire--

If you're a seminar member who has just received your link to this brand new site, please be sure and start at the welcome (that would be at the bottom of the page, our very first entry!) I've posted information about me and about our guest writers, some questions from last year's class, and a 5-part questionaire written by Linda Kinnear; she would like you to answer all five questions. Our week is tightly organized, but we'll try to address any special issues along the way.

Feel free to respond to opinions in any of the entries and in the comments. It's okay to ask an anonymous question, but we'd like names to attach to most comments; it would also be nice for you to note your home school or district when you first post. We've never done this before and are learning about what works, but we hope that this will be a good chance for us to start to form a community before we meet. As I've put a good deal of time into this portion of "pre-seminar" work, I hope that you'll do your best to make it useful and worthwhile by communicating with us and with one another. Please drop in often!


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Marly Youmans: If you would like...

Given the ways of the world wide web, you can get to know quite a bit about people before you meet them. I hope you'll visit here and let us know you; here are a few quick, easy ways to get to know something about me and my books.

If you would like to see my home page, go to It connects to the pages listed below, as well as to a Commonplace Book and events schedule.

If you would like to see a selected bibliography with books and award listings and uncollected work, go to This one also has some links to online writing as well. And there's a smattering of biography to tell you how a Carolinian ended up living in a Yankee snow drift.

The following are my books--two mountain fantasies for young adults, a collection of poetry, and three novels--listed from the current to the first.

1. Ingledove (Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2005). This fantasy inspired by my childhood in Cullowhee is brand new, with a pub date of May 7. Since most fantasy by Americans is actually set in England or Europe, my two are a bit unusual.

If you would like to see me with a Seagrove, North Carolina chicken (and that's the edge of a watercolor by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., mentor of Southern authors), read an interview (click on the link), read reviews, and see some wonderful pictures by Renato Alarcao, go to Actually, there are pictures from Renato on a number of pages in the site.

2. The Curse of the Raven Mocker (Farrar, Straus & Giroux BYR, 2003). This is the companion fantasy to Ingledove. Like the new book, it mingles the folk ways and lore of the early settlers to the mountains with Cherokee legend: in this case, the stories of the malevolent and secretive Raven Mockers. Ingledove has a fabulous water serpent and a lamia, brought over by ship.

If you would like to see a jacket by Steve Ciezlawski (with links to his magical paintings), reviews, and an interview, go to

3. Claire (Louisiana State University Press, 2003). Claire is my first collection of poetry. You can jump to samples of some poems on the bibliography page, or go to for jacket, quotes, and a link to some of the contents.

4. The Wolf Pit (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001) The Wolf Pit makes a sort of helix, twisting the story of a slave girl around the story of a young Confederate soldier. It won The Michael Shaara Award for 2001--a national award for Best Civil War book. Hop to for more.

5. Catherwood (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996) Catherwood is my one out-of-print book (the entire Bard paperback line was a victim of mega-mergers), though it's the one writers seem to talk about the most... Set in the late seventeenth century, the novel follows a young woman and her daughter lost in the wilderness. I wrote it on the landing of a stairs in Cooperstown, before I moved back to Chapel Hill. Little did I realize that I would eventually pingpong back to Cooperstown. Catherwood is still available as a used book. For more, go to

6. Little Jordan (David R. Godine, Publisher, 1995) Here I began book publication, with a novella from Godine: This one was first marketed as an adult book but has had a second life in the young adult market.

If you want to talk to me outside of this blog, you can visit at and leave messages there. It's a hodgepodge, with a little of everything, including an entry about Carrie Gate's self-publishing venture, Granny Tales. And be sure and sign up for the free-book chicken contest! (See the May 20 entry).

Monday, July 04, 2005

Brian Railsback

Brian Railsback will be visiting the seminar to talk about the mysterious kingdom of publishing, and Linda passed me this article about his The Darkest Clearing to post. I bought my copy of the book at City Lights in Sylva; you can too!


I'm not sure of the source for this one; it may be a WCU press release. I'm sure somebody will tell.



CULLOWHEE – When Western Carolina University faculty member Brian Railsback traveled to New York City in 1993, he saw firsthand the destruction that occurs when individuals are inspired by their ideologies to commit violence against others.

During that business trip, Railsback visited the World Trade Center site -- two days after the first terrorist bombing at that New York landmark.

Now, 11 years later, the central character in Railsback's new fiction book, “The Darkest Clearing,” also is a man driven by his beliefs to commit extreme violence against others.
Railsback, head of Western's Department of English, has written short stories and is a nationally recognized scholar and author on the works of John Steinbeck. “The Darkest Clearing,” his first novel, was released in January by High Sierra Books, an Oregon publisher, and the book has since garnered favorable reviews in publications such as the Charlotte Observer, Booklist and Midwest Book Review.

The book's 326 pages tell the story of a character named Eldred Spell, a New York stockbroker who, on the same day, experiences the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and learns of the death of his sister, the only person he has ever cared for, in a fictionalized Yosemite Valley. Spell is compelled to head to the valley to undertake a violent campaign, by the point of a rifle, to rid the valley of the clutter of modern tourism and restore its natural beauty.

The name Eldred Spell is a familiar one on Western's campus, as there is a real Eldred Spell who teaches in the university's music department. Railsback received permission to borrow the name of his friend and colleague.

The novel's other primary character is Eli Ware, a female park ranger in the valley. Ware is struggling to define herself, torn between her desire to work as an interpretive ranger and to be a good wife and mother, and other forces that compel her to work as a ranger who provides law enforcement.

Throughout the book, the two characters' lives begin to weave together until finally they meet – and they want to kill each other, Railsback said. “In a strange way, they have created the only circumstances through which they will find out who they really are,” he said.

Railsback said the original concept for the book came to him while he was attending a Steinbeck conference in Nantucket, Mass. One of the conference participants told Railsback in conversation that he had been “spiking trees” to protest timber-cutting operations.

“I asked him about the danger that poses for people who process the lumber, and this very sophisticated, professorial and well-dressed guy smiled and said, ‘That's the chance I take, isn't it?'” Railsback said.

“It just hit me, and I spent that night walking the streets of Nantucket, thinking about the fact that this is our country's great unsolvable problem,” Railsback said. “You have one group of people who want to use the land for recreation or to develop it and make money, and the other side wants to preserve it. I wanted to write about that. It's a battle of will over resources.”
Railsback worked on the book periodically over the ensuing decade, balancing his fiction writing with his duties as a teacher and administrator.

“I meant to write a literary book that had to do with the environment, but once these characters came into play, they took over the novel and it didn't wind up at all like I expected,” Railsback said. “It's being described as a literary thriller, or eco-thriller, and that's not what I thought I was doing when I started.”

Railsback's book has garnered some good reviews. Midwest Book Review says “The Darkest Clearing” is “dark, dramatic, entertaining, and highly recommended for community library fiction shelves.” A reviewer for the Charlotte Observer said the book “should satisfy readers looking for a thriller with meat on its bones, especially those passionate about wilderness and intrigued by the dark recesses of the human heart.”

With one novel finished, Railsback is in the process of writing two others while continuing work on another long-term project, editing “The John Steinbeck Encyclopedia.”

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Ron Rash

Ron Rash will be stopping by the seminar to talk about a sense of place in fiction, particularly Southern fiction. I don't think he has a web site, but Linda Kinnear has sent these articles about his current awards and activities. The first is from the Asheville paper, the second from Cullowhee's nearest paper, the weekly Sylva Herald. Photo of Ron Rash at WCU's Mountain Heritage Center - source: WCU Public Relations office



Asheville Citizen-Times
BOOK NOTES: 'Saints at the River' named best Southern novel
Published: June 26, 2005 6:00 am

CULLOWHEE - Ron Rash's "Saints at the River" has been named best Southern novel of 2005 by the Southeast Booksellers Association. Rash will recent a $500 dollar prize and a framed book jacket.

Rash is the holder of the Parris Distinguished Professorship of Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University. He also received the O. Henry Prize for short fiction for 2005 for his story "Speckle Trout" and is the winner of this year's Weatherford Award for Fiction, which is given by the Appalachian Studies Association and Berea College. He has also won the 2005 Thomas and Lillie B. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing from the Morehead State University in Kentucky.

Rash's earlier book "One Foot in Eden" won the Foreword Magazine's Gold Medal for Best Literary Novel of 2002 and the 2003 Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year Award.


Jan. 20, 2005 Edition Sylva, NCVolume 79, No. 43

WCU's Ron Rash wins O. Henry Prize for short fiction

Ron Rash, the John and Dorothy Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University, is the recipient of a prestigious O. Henry Prize for 2005.

Rash received the award for his short story "Speckle Trout," published in the spring 2003 edition of The Kenyon Review.

His is one of 20 stories selected for the prize from more than
1,000 submitted by magazine editors from across North America.

The Atlantic Monthly says that O. Henry Prizes are "widely regarded as the nation's most prestigious awards for short fiction."

The prize is named in honor of William Sidney Porter, who adopted the pseudonym of O. Henry. A fiction writer with an illustrious life, O. Henry penned many of his stories in prison. When he was released from prison, he was invited to New York where he continued to write for the next eight years until his death in 1910.

Among past winners of the O. Henry Prize are such influential writers as Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Thurber, James Baldwin, Woody Allen, Mary McCarthy, Alice Walker, Chaim Potok, J.D. Salinger, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, E.L. Doctorow, Andrea Barrett, John Irving and Stephen King.

Rash's "Speckled Trout" will be published along with other prize-wining stories in a collection titled "The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005" by Anchor Books. Laura Furman, an award-winning novelist, short-story writer and essayist, is editor of the collection.

The O. Henry Prize is the latest in a series of awards received by Rash. The Fellowship of Southern Writers recently has named him recipient of its James Still Award for Writing of the Appalachian South.

Rash, who teaches in the English department at Western, is author of two critically acclaimed novels based in the Appalachians – his debut novel "One Foot in Eden," which was Western's freshman summer reading selection for 2004, and the recently published "Saints at the River."

A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Rash came to Western in 2003 from the University of South Carolina, where he served as visiting writer in the graduate creative writing program. As Western's first Parris Professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies, he has helped set up a series of performances, readings and lectures that highlight mountain culture.

"One Foot in Eden" won the 2003 Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year Award and Foreword Magazine's Gold Medal for Best Literary Novel of 2002.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Invisible Post

If you're wondering what happened to the very long post that used to be in this spot, well--it's gone! I updated the thing and have stowed it elsewhere (see the July 20th post above for how to find the list of questions, answers, and links).