Chance Meeting Brings Friendship…and More!

Often you meet a person and don’t realize the impact they can have on your life.

I wrote the opening to this interview on May 6, the day after our Writers At The Bistro event at Horizon Bistro in Sparta. It was a short review of “From Lemons to Lemonade,” presented by NYTimes and USA Today best selling author, SE ‘Susan’ Smith.
As it states in the interview, the circumstances surrounding our first meeting make a great opening introduction. The audience got a good laugh at the telling. As I look back on the impact and potential for Alleghany Writers and our local writing scene, it is a prime example of “fate plays a hand.
Spending time with Susan since the event has been personally inspiring. This woman loves, loves, loves writing stories, and she has a keen sense for marketing that has taken her to the top of her category in the publishing world. Hearing her share the journey has me taking a closer look at how I spend my time. It has prompted me to refocus on the things I really love to do. I really love to write!  And it’s time to get out those notebooks with all the story ideas and get to writing. With the Alleghany Writers creative writing group up and running, I can shift more time from the organizing.  Or, as Susan put it, focus on “be-ing” instead of “do-ing.” Writing is hard work, but it’s joyful work, and I’m in need of some joy. Look for a more regular posting schedule in the future!

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May 6, 2018

It was through a cosmic set of occurrences that I came to know author S.E. ‘Susan’ Smith and became immersed in conversation at her home on an afternoon in March. She shared the story of how she became an author and rose in popularity to become a multiple New York Times and USA TODAY best selling author. It was an inspiration…as a writer with a goal to be published, but also as a woman who has been at that place, the moment you make the decision to take control of your success and become the mistress of your own destiny.

A prolific writer with a mind for marketing. Susan has developed new markets with stories for teens and children, expanding the brand with plush animals, coloring books, tote bags, and other items.

Susan appeared May 5, on the Horizon Bistro stage in downtown Sparta to an enthusiastic crowd of readers and writers.  She brought her story of turning life “From Lemons to Lemonade.” She talked of the challenges, her inspirations, and gave us a look at the many ways readers help build the characters and story lines. As an example of her faithful fan base, there were readers who drove from northern Virginia, West Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma to see their favorite author and hear about the new stories she has coming in the next few months.

Thanks to Chef Garrison Wagoner, owner of the Horizon Bistro, for giving Alleghany Writers a spot on the Bistro stage. Susan’s appearance premiered First Saturday performances of Writers On The Bistro Stage. Check the Alleghany Writers Facebook page for our upcoming schedule.

While Susan takes time to speak with attendees, a group of her faithful fans distribute books and other cool “swag.” Susan admits to loving the goodies and makes sure there are lots of fun items to hand out at book signings.

Here is my interview with Susan, printed in the Alleghany News on April 25.

My adventure started with Cynthia Grant. Since she was home recuperating after foot surgery, I delivered promotional posters and handouts to her house for an upcoming Alleghany Writers event at the Library. As people came by to visit, Cynthia handed out the information. Surprisingly effective!
Cynthia gave handouts to Julia Simmons. Julia went for coffee at Sparky’s and heard two women talk about their recent move to Alleghany. She heard one woman say she was a writer. Julia approached, introduced herself as a friend of the Alleghany Writers creative writing group, and offered one of the handouts she picked up from Cynthia.
That person was SE ‘Susan’ Smith. Julia got her card, dropped it off with me on the way home, and I sent Susan an email that evening as an introduction to our group and to Alleghany County in general. There was a reply in my inbox the next morning, and by the afternoon I was sitting with Susan, her sister Linda, and Sirah the pup, overlooking a scenic view of Low Gap, and talking about writing. I doubt that a character from the worlds of S.E. Smith could have orchestrated a more serendipitous event!
As a fellow writer I understood her enthusiasm about getting stories out of her imagination and down on paper. Susan is immersed in her characters and their stories.… so are her readers!  The sheer number of published books and their popularity show her ability to engage readers in the worlds she creates. But, as I sit next to this very pleasant woman, dressed down for an afternoon of writing, and not appearing anything like someone who has been named multiple times to the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author lists, my first question begins with the word “how.”  How did it all happen?
About her start in writing, Susan says, “The school district I worked for was reorganizing. I had been with them for 15 years as both a teacher and as tech support staff. One day they tell us ‘everyone is gone, you have to reapply.’

“I was rehired, but developed this rebellious mood of wanting to escape the ‘real’ world for a while. So I started to read. I soon found there were few stories with females who were strong, fragile, brave, scared, namely a woman who was real to me. And, I wanted to read about an alpha guy who was strong, vulnerable, willing to learn, and who wasn’t afraid to admit he was in love, even if he wasn’t sure what to do about it!”

Susan found the heroes and heroines in books couldn’t match the ones she created in her own imagination. “I thought about all the stories in my head and decided I could always write them down for my own pleasure.”

Her sister Linda encouraged Susan to send her stories to a publisher. She did, but received the, “thanks, but no thanks” response that often nips the budding novelist. Not Susan. She kept writing, just to see where the characters would go. The stories collected into a growing pile.

Eventually her sister encouraged Susan to publish so she could share the stories with friends. She was still working her full-time job, a job which now included eight schools, not just one.

“I took my courage and started researching. I found out about Kindle Direct Publishing, learned to do the covers, and late on a Sunday night, I hit the SEND button to publish the books I had written.”

Along with positive feedback came sales, and the book sales grew to the award-winning popularity she has today. It confirmed what Susan knew in her heart. There were people out there who wanted the same reading experience. Now the publishing world of S. E. Smith spans the genres of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and contemporary stories. They combine action, adventure, and romance with the themes of family, friendship and true love.  Her audience is world-wide, including adults, young, adults, and children.
How did Susan Smith get to Sparta? It’s another version of the story we know well. Looking for a mountain home to get away from Florida summers. Went from county to county. Nothing fit the bill. Their realtor told them about a home in Alleghany County. That home didn’t suit, but when they followed a “by owner” sign up the road, there it was. The home, the property, the view. Everything they wanted. Now Susan and her family are Alleghany homeowners and look forward to being part of our community.

 

Prompting the Imagination

The January 19th meeting of the Alleghany Writers was a confirmation that there is a genuine interest in building a writers community in Sparta.  We had returning writers, a few new writers, and some emails from other writers confirming that they plan to come in future months. Email me if you want more information on the group or to be added to our mailing list. coppertopcollins@gmail.com.

This month there was poetry, sharing online resources and the decision to move to the Alleghany Library beginning with the February 16th meeting. The library is located at 112 Atwood, in the same building as the Sparta campus of WCC, and the Blue Ridge Business Development Center. It is big, and beautiful, and a wonderful space for writers.

Doug showing the best thing to do in a library…….read.

There was also announcement of upcoming events. Details coming this spring.

New River Poetry Competition – Call for entries in early April. Awards Finale, May 13, 2017

Working Writer Poetry & Writing Workshops May 12 & 13

On the program at each meeting is the “prompt” exercise. Someone provides an opening line, or a situation. Writers are encouraged to take that prompt and see where the writing takes you. Attendees are invited to read their piece at the next meeting, but there is no pressure to read if it’s not your thing. There is a three minute limit for readings and we set aside time for discussion.

At the December meeting we decided on this prompt:

It’s dusk. You stop along the side of the road to look at the scenery.

You hear a tap, tap, tap that seems to be coming from the woods.

You see a pine needle path that leads in the direction of the sound.

This is my tap, tap, tap story –

Sunset Adventure

We took the interstate to the auction, but came home on the back roads. After a weekend of work we deserved a scenic drive to relax. The late afternoon sky was predicting a beautiful sunset, and it was time for a stretch and a rummage through the back seat basket. Lou and I made so many of these road trips we had developed a habit of the sunset snack. If there was a scenic place to stop and watch a sunset, we would celebrate it with a rest and a nibble.

Lou backed in the truck and dropped the tailgate. He headed to the woods for a pit stop and I pulled out the basket of snacks.  I stretched a tea towel over a section of the back and pulled out the cheese and crackers, thankful for how the wrapped sleeve of biscuits and the wax covered cheese made for a mess-free set up. A tin of smoked oysters finished the menu. I pulled out a couple of wine singles from the cooler and considered our sunset nosh to be ready.

Lou was back quicker than usual. His face had a puzzled look, and he kept turning around to the woods as he walked forward.

“Did you hear that?” A thread of fear laced through his question. I turned around to see that his faced matched his tone. In the year we had been dating I rarely saw Lou in a situation he did not dominate, so this was an unfamiliar scene for me.

“That tapping,” he said. “Did you hear it?”

“Sorry. I was setting the table. Didn’t hear a thing.”

“It was a tapping sound. Like metal on metal. A click. I couldn’t tell if it was random or a code.” Lou’s voice carried the suspense of someone imagining the plot of a paperback thriller coming to life on a wooded roadside.

“Code?”

“Yes, code. Like Morse Code. I think I recognized a word or two.”

I took in this new side of his personality. Excited over a rare find at an estate sale? Sure. But I never thought of Lou as someone interested in investigating sounds on the wind.

I handed him the bottle of wine and held mine up for a toast. After the ceremonial clink I asked, “So, do you want to end our weekend with a little exploring?”

Apparently my city dwelling, luxury loving boyfriend was more adventurous than I had imagined. He took a long sip of wine, and turned towards the woods. “Follow me,” he said, reaching his hand back to grasp mine. “Stay on the pine needles. That’s the path in.”

As we entered the cluster of trees I began to hear the sound. Very faint, so faint I wondered how Lou had even heard it. But he was right. There was a tapping, and it did sound like code.

The level path led to a steep drop off, opening up to a view of the valley below. Lou pointed to the large pine tree growing into the hillside on our left. That’s where we saw him, perched on rock surrounded by a clump of roots from a fallen tree. He had a radio in one hand, and was tapping out Morse Code with the other. After a moment of surprise on both our parts, he waved us over. We learned that our phantom tapper was a ham radio operator trying to make a last few contacts for National Parks On The Air, a celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks Service.

Our drive home was filled with stories of Lou’s fascination with amateur radio. Summers with his grandfather, learning Morse Code and talking with people across the county and around the world. I listened as he shared, knowing that our relationship had taken a step forward. All because I was willing to go down a path in the woods in search of a tap, tap, tap.