At the August meeting of Alleghany Writers it was all about the dialogue.
There were eleven writers at the Thursday meeting of Alleghany Writers and that many different variations of a conversation between the two women in the photo below. Were they mother/daughter/granddaughter/acquaintance/friend? Yes! We had them all!
Every story had a validity. Each writer played out the scene using these characters and this particular setting. The orange liquid was fruit juice in one story and a veggie smoothie in another. Either way, it was perfect. Intentional.
It’s why the prompt exercises are my favorites. We have a very diverse group. Our minds drift in different directions, and each path is just where our stories need to go.
This is what I heard when I looked at the picture:
What are you doing over there Mrs. Findlay?
Looking at these peas. They are so perfectly round and look so pretty against the white plate.
Why, yes they do, don’t they? But why don’t you put down the knife. Try your fork. It will scoop them up better.
But its fun this way. Counting peas just like I counted pills at the drugstore. Put them in tall rows and funnel them down into the little pill bottle. Watch.
Well good. I’m glad you found that memory, but your hand will get all greasy if you scoop them right off the plate. And you know we’ve talked about how it’s not nice to eat with your hands in the lunch room.
You mean it’s alright to eat with your hands in other places? Great. Let’s go there for dinner!
Now, Mrs. Findlay. Let’s not get funny. You know the campus has everything you need. Just a few more bites of dinner and we can go over to the park and watch the sunset. You know how you like to do that.
You’re pretty new at this angel thing, aren’t you dearie?
Yes maam, you are my first assignment. Is it that obvious?
I have dementia. I’m not dumb and blind. You’re trying, I can see that. But your trying is very trying. Get it? Trying and trying, same word but different definitions.
Oh, yes, I get it now. I’m sorry. I don’t always get what you’re saying, Mrs. Findlay.
I know. You millennial angels are a bit slow on the uptake. You need to learn some references from other generations, for goodness sake. Spread your wings. Get a dimension.
As the Sisters of the Scorched Soles complete their first working weekend, goals have been established and assignments made. Permission to nag has been given and each sister has a timeline for our projects.
Neda has her historical novel about Frederick Stowe. Jill has her series of short stories about the five senses. I have this blog.
Let the writerly activity begin!
Establishing our roles in the Scorched Sisterhood: Neda, the nurturer and provider of food and comfort. Jill, the practical, logical, techie youngest sister. Ginger, the cheerleader and lifter of spirits.
Ready to Begin Again
I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I reached the bottom of the mountain. How much I needed the comfort of my sisters and the ease of mutual analysis and shared opinion that comes through extended time with close friends!
There is the point at which you can say almost anything, be yourself, unvarnished. It came easy with my St. Joe friends. We had years of history and shared experiences. There was no BS because everyone knew the best and worst already. Nothing to hide.
My first two days were spent stripping the built-up varnish of daily life to let the natural wood of my being breath for a while. I became a spiritual nudist, floating along on a cloud of joy, easily moving toward a positive and enriching purpose.
How fortunate we are to have found each other and to be at this point in our lives where vision can become clear and action can be taken.
I was actually looking forward to jury duty! It’s been a busy few weeks and I was hoping to get a bit of diversion, maybe even some allowable judging of my fellow man.
The process was fascinating. Hearing the explanation of why we were there, watching the line as people waited to ask the judge for a deferment to a later date. This was her first trip to Alleghany. She was very attentive. Listened carefully to each plea to be excused. But, you could read her lips between the sweet smile. Nice try, but not enough of a reason to get you off. Back into the jury pool. It was people watching at its finest.
I heard names I recognized. Now they had faces. I saw faces I recognized. Now they had names. There were even a few who I knew by name and face, only to find out that name was not their legal name…which I could understand, since I was the Ginger Collins who answered to Barbara Anne when they called the roll.
It wasn’t an episode of Law & Order, but it was a genuine cast of characters who had me jotting down details to enrich my character descriptions in future stories. There were a few rugged individuals. Leather-tan faces, backs hunched over, a slight limp in the walk. I cast them as outlaws or eccentric millionaires. There were women with classic features, looking like they had finished the dishes and removed their apron just in time to get to the courthouse. Of course, there were a few bad fashion choices. There always are. But my favorite of the day was the man whose face was the rural version of British royalty. The jug ears, the prominent nose. To my eyes he could have been a cousin to Prince Charles who somehow ended up in the North Carolina mountains. I spun a yarn around that visual for a good ten minutes!
Then it was over! After all the prep and procedure, we were released. This means I will never find out what those three men in the blue suits at the front table were talking about. Maybe that’s my next story!
People who are meant to be together find each other. The story behind the formation of our trio in 2010, proves it. That story later. Now I will just introduce us as three women in a critique group…very individual… yet alike in as many ways as we are different. From the beginning we truly enjoyed the style, substance, and subject matter of each other’s stories and worked together to get the words polished, submitted, and published. This always made for long confabs, always over food, with lots of conversation on a variety of topics. But, it always came back to writing and the journey to publication. When I lived in Atlanta, our critique group sessions consisted of long and lavish lunches at Neda’s, followed by the reading of our latest pages. It was an entire literary afternoon. It was glorious.
The fateful trip to New York City in January, 2011. It didn’t get above 15 degrees during our entire visit.
In January, 2011, our trio traveled to New York City for a Writers Digest Conference. Our novel manuscripts had received rave reviews from what we considered to be discerning readers and we were confident agents would find our stories appealing. Our elevator speeches were flawless, our leave-behind material was impressive. We were ready for success. It didn’t come. There were requests for 50 pages here and there, and a couple agents asked for full manuscripts. But nothing came of it. Nothing.
It was a level of disappointment that hit all three of us equally. We were experienced business women. Business analysis, marketing, advertising, and media…among many other things. When you put it all together, we were pretty smart chicks! How could we be rejected? We were in agreement, never had we put that much time and effort into something and not come out winners.
After a period of mourning for my dream of being a novelist, I settled into mountain life in Alleghany County. I boxed up the writing, even gave some books away. I turned my back on creative writing and went back to the familiar of marketing materials, print ads, and press releases.
Jill started a photography business in addition to her active website business. Neda went from high-end retail to a new life in real estate. We connected when possible on my quick trips to town. Always lots of laughs and marvelous tales of our most recent adventures. We were busy with our new projects and it was clear that writing had fallen to the wayside for all of us.
Now we’re back. Energized, refocused on our writing goals, and taking the next steps. This blog post is my first step. Journaling our adventures, sharing what we learn, and finding the joy in writing that once kept us so inspired and motivated.
Once a week. That’s my posting promise. Here goes!
When Ron Houchin met with our writers in April he stressed the fact that even though we may have our favorite place to write, with the atmosphere, music, silence, candle, cushion that gets us “in the writing mood,” we need to be comfortable writing anywhere, because if that’s where the spirit moves us towards a thought or idea or reflection, we should not wait to capture it on paper. Let those words fly onto the page, red hot, fresh out of the oven.
As I sit in the Alleghany Library I’m putting that advice into practice. I’m writing off the top of my red head as I decompress from one meeting and prepare for the next. Later this afternoon I’ll lead the monthly meeting of Alleghany Writers. Days aren’t usually this jammed and I’ve been working hard to unjam even more, but sometimes the personal, home, and community interests converge in a perfect storm that requires seamless preparation, full attention, and a professional manner. All the things that spell out work instead of play.
So, even though I am drawn toward creating a copy draft for a Horizon Bistro brochure, I feel compelled to write some words that are soft and round and curly before I start writing something as pointed and sharp as a promo piece for catering and carry out.
My first thought is to finish the piece I started early in the week for our monthly prompt exercise. It’s a picture prompt, and the challenge is to describe the setting. The look, the feel, the abstract, the concrete. All of it.
I got a good start and knew the finish. What I didn’t have was a middle. When I started working on the middle the word count grew and the story took off into its own novel! I was going for a cute little vignette with an ending twist. What I got was a rambling beginning going nowhere.
Guess I’ll dig into the ramblings and carve out 500 words that describe the setting….an outdoor summer wedding. I’m envisioning the love story you see on the Hallmark movies. She’s the rich girl. Privileged. Not yet spoiled, but on her way there. He’s the hardworking guy who works on the family property. A “hand,” who has a special connection with her horses. Each sees the potential in the other. The photo shows the final scene, their wedding day.
I’m off to write some soft, round, and curly words………………………………….
I wrote this early Monday morning. I “let the cookies cool” as Ron Houchin says about first drafts, and went in for edits this afternoon. When it felt good enough to pass on, Melvin read it for his approval. This one passed, barely. I might be willing to recount an evening with airplane bottles of rum stuffed in my shirt to prepare for a concert, but the hub gets last look and sign-off on what goes into print. Essays and memoirs…fiction, too.
Preparing the post I decided to add videos from YouTube, but only if they were clear representations of the scenes I described from memory. They magically popped up on the second key word, and, in the case of that Jewish boy from Long Island, he was exactly as I remembered. Exactly.
I really do love music!
You will rarely see me at one of our local outdoor music events. I have never been to the Blue Ridge Music Center, except for a quick run-through with my friend Martha on a sunny afternoon Parkway drive.
You probably won’t see me at the indoor music events, either. Maybe a Camerata or the Symphony, but not the mountain roots music so prevalent in town. It’s just not a draw for me. It isn’t connected to anything I know.
And yet, I really do love music! Singing around the house is the norm. Lyrics embed in my mind and I’m compelled to vocalize. Always harmony. Especially strong with twangy, country duets like Love Can Build a Bridge by the Judds, or anything from the Eagles or Doobie Brothers. The draw for me is the memory it provokes. I like music that takes me on a ride back in time.
Walking through a store the other day, I caught the tune playing on the stereo in the background. I had to force myself from diving into the harmony with Billy Joel singing Piano Man. “And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar, and say man, what are you doing here?” But, I wouldn’t pay money to see Billy Joel in concert. The 2018 Billy Joel is not what I want running through my memory. Still a dynamic performer, yet not the Billy Joel I remember performing “Always a Woman to Me” on Saturday Night Live, some smoky night in 1979.
I watched from my spot on the carpet at Mary and Steve’s apartment in Westerville, Ohio. Our group met there weekly as the last stop of the evening, the place to gather with a date, after a date, or as the first venture out for the day. We watched Saturday Night Live together, our whole crew snugged into a sofa and two chairs, with the others resting their backs in between. Drinks were fresh, mostly sweet things like Tia Maria, or Baileys, or Drambuie. Nightcaps. Matches were lit and ashtrays settled in communal spots. No one was asked to step outside and smoke. Actually, not sharing was considered rude.
The focus was on the television. Laughing at Belushi and Ackroyd. Since I went by Barbara in those days, there was always the residual Baba Wawa joke after Gilda Radner did her anchorwoman skit. Then Billy Joel sat at the piano. He wore white. He had those big eyes and that strong voice, and all of us girls wished we could be the one he met backstage after the performance. Christy Brinkley got that gig.
There were the times I flashed my Marshall University Journalism press pass and got back stage at the Dick Clark traveling Bandstand. Got in, got an interview, promised to send a copy, never did.
The most memorable of that era took place at the Memorial Field House in Huntington, WV. Probably around 1966. My friend Jane and me were “chaperoned” by two black guys we knew from Marshall. It was the visceral experience of a lifetime. Two white girls in a sea of dark, learning what integration felt like.
But, it was “cool”, because everyone was there for the same reason. James Brown, with Ike and Tina Turner. Yes, James Brown and his Band of Renown, on stage with Ike and Tina, in front of a crowd of maybe 1,000 fans. Remember, it was the mid-sixties, and a gathering that size made up of mostly African-Americans was not a common occurrence in Huntington, West Virginia. That’s why Jane and I wanted to be there. So we could say we were there. So I could write this story fifty years later.
We stood on folding chairs and watched James Brown sing, “Please, please, baby please don’t go.” He collapsed, men ran out with the shimmering cape to scoop him off stage, only to see him throw aside the cape and do that signature strut back to the center microphone. The building reverberated and the crowd roared. Slim pints of gin and whiskey were passed along the rows without a thought of the dangers in communal drinking. Take a drink, pass it on. We’re all friends here. To prepare for the evening, Jane and I refilled minis bottles and stuffed them in our bra. The rum was warm but it was 150 proof, and we were set in case a stray Coke was available.
Then came skinny Ike on guitar, with that lower-than-low bass voice. Next to him beautiful Tina swirling in an orbit of fringe while her arms churned, “Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river.” The backup singers with thighs like cheerleaders and voices full of growl and three-part solidarity.
It was an electric night and it’s where I go when I hear Private Dancer or What’s Love Got to Do With it. It would never cross my mind to go see her in concert today. I agree, she is still amazing, rocking those heels and swinging that hair, but I don’t want to replace my 1966 Ike and Tina memory.
Showing my age?
Concerts just aren’t for me anymore. I’ve become impatient about the traffic, crowd, and noise. I’ve seen Bowie at Wolf Trap, and danced through the early 70’s with Bachman, Turner Overdrive, Three Dog Night, and Fleetwood Mac. So, I’m good. I’m sure I’m not alone, but sometimes feel that way in a community hard-wired for the “get up, get out, and listen to the mountain music,” crowd.
So, to my friends in town…don’t think that I am shunning your efforts to bring vitality to Alleghany County. They just aren’t my thing. I’m focused on the alternative. I’ll do my part to promote art and community culture by focusing on our writers, helping them develop the art and craft of the written word, and offering a performance venue at the Horizon Bistro. Local talent, regional names, and national bestsellers. That’s what gets me up and out!
I’ll keep my treasure chest of musical memories and let the written words in my stories be the lyrics, while I hum along in harmony.