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Kim Wright is the author of The Unexpected Waltz (Gallery Books), Love In Mid Air (Grand Central), and the upcoming Take Me There, which will be published by Gallery Books next spring. She also writes nonfiction, specializing in the areas of food, wine, and travel, and has twice been the recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing. Kim lives in Charlotte.

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Kim will lead a workshop titled "Structure: Four Ways to Build a Book" with Kim Boykin, Erika Marks, and Marybeth Whalen.

Structure: It's hard to talk about and therefore many writers avoid the scary subject, even though a sound structure is essential to the success of any novel. On this panel, four writers will share their own unique ways of building a book, from being a “pantser” (who flies by the seat of her pants) to a “plotter” who won't begin without a detailed outline, to all the possibilities between these two extremes. We'll also discuss the issues of whether each book demands its own structure, the challenge of revision, writing when you aren't sure what happens next, and whether or not the "film formula" really works when it comes to novels. You'll leave with a new set of tools to help you find the best structural approach to your next book.

Register now!

 

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
Make more of an effort to meet other writers. I stayed solitary far too long!

Did you have a teacher or mentor who had a big, positive impact on you?
Fred Leebron, who is now heading up the Queens MFA program.

Who is your literary hero?
Milton. He was blind and he came up with the best tactile descriptions!

If you could live in any literary world for the rest of your life, where would you find yourself?
The here and now. I'm not much for romanticizing the past or glorifying the future.

If you could have written one book that someone else wrote, which book would it be?
Sense and Sensibility.

Many writers are solitary creatures. Coming to an event like Fall Conference can be a little intimidating, navigating the exhibit hall and ballroom events. Any advice for working the room?
Start before you're in the room. The best friendships are begun in halls and elevators.

Who gave the best reading or talk you've ever been to? What made it so good?
I'll never forget a reading Carolyn Forché gave years ago in Wilmington.

Any advice for attendees who sign up for the Open Mic?
Opt to read less than you think you can comfortably cover in the time allotted and read slowly.

The city of Charlotte was founded on two established Native American trading routes. Now, of course, it's the second biggest banking center in the country. Fall Conference will boast an exhibit hall packed with vendors. How do you approach an exhibit hall at a conference such as this? To shop, to chat, or both?
I both shop and chat but I have to take it in small chunks. I find these experiences overwhelming.

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but of course most of us do. What is one—or some—of your favorite book cover(s)?
I love the new Norton cover of A Scarlet Letter.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
We're talking about structure, which can be daunting. If they're stuck on their WIP, I hope they leave with practical ideas for revision.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
Mysteries, especially historical ones. And I love People Magazine!

What makes you cringe when you see it on the page?
Unconscious word repetition.

Caffeine of choice? (English Breakfast, Caramel macchiato, etc.)
Embarrassing so...Diet Coke.

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

Morri Creech is the author of three collections of poetry: Paper Cathedrals (Kent State University Press, 2001), Field Knowledge (Waywiser, 2006), and The Sleep of Reason (Waywiser, 2013), which was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. A recipient of NEA and Ruth Lilly Fellowships, as well as grants from the North Carolina and Louisiana Arts Councils, he is the Writer-in-Residence at Queens University of Charlotte.

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Morri will lead the Master Class in Poetry workshop. Officially titled "Formal Poetry," this class will consider the expressive possibilities of formal poetry, and participants will investigate how meter, rhyme, and fixed forms such as the sonnet and villanelle can help to generate new and exciting work. Morri will distribute examples, and the class will analyze the formal properties of works by established authors before writing their own poems. The goal is to have writers leave the workshop with the beginnings of at least one new poem. Register now!

 

If you could be a different author, living or dead, who would you be?
I’d like to be W. B. Yeats. I love the way he takes everything from his life—his spirituality, politics, friendships, love life, historical milieu—and turns it into poetry.

Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Well-crafted, intelligent, moving.

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
Don’t bully the muse. In other words, try to figure out what the poem wants to say, not what you want it to say.

In 2013, Forbes named Charlotte among its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. What makes Charlotte such a vibrant place to visit and live?
Definitely the diversity of people here. I have friends who are glass artists, concrete artists, poets, computer designers—and who come from all over the place. Charlotte is a great nexus for meeting people with a wide range of interests. (The restaurants are great too.)

Why do you feel it's important for writers to attend conferences such as the NCWN Fall Conference?
Conferences like this give writers new strategies and techniques to work with, help polish their work, and save time on the learning curve, providing instruction on things that might take a writer years to figure out on their own.

Saturday's "Brilliant at Breakfast" panel discussion is titled, "Words in Civic Life." Does creative writing have a role to play outside the covers of a book?
Absolutely. Particularly poetry, which is an aural medium and can be shared through the spoken word—it’s not just the page that counts.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
I hope they will take away specific ideas for how to improve their poems, and new techniques to generate new material—skill in meter and form that perhaps they haven’t considered using before.

What does it mean for writers to "Network?" Any tips?
I don’t have any tips for this; I’m terrible at “networking.” But if you admire a person’s work, don’t be shy about reaching out to them. Several of my literary friendships spring from my e-mailing or writing poets whom I admire and striking up a conversation.

If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
Maybe Gulliver’s Travels. Or the Canterbury Tales.

Do you read literary journals? What are some of your favorites?
I don’t read a lot of journals, but I like Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, The Southwest Review, and Tin House.

Can writing be taught?
It can be shaped. And specific techniques—lineation, stanzaic structure, meter, rhyme, fixed forms, things like that—can definitely be taught.

Who has influenced your writing style the most?
W. B. Yeats and W. H. Auden. In terms of contemporary poets, it would be Derek Mahon, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Richard Wilbur, John Wood, and Anthony Hecht.

Have you ever had writer’s block? What is one thing that helped you overcome it?
I get writer’s block all the time. In fact, I have it now. The only thing for it is to keep pushing against the wall until the wall disappears. William Stafford used to say that when he couldn’t write well, he would “lower his standards.” That’s important: if you’re not willing to write badly, you won’t write well. Turn off the editor in your brain and just put something down. Don’t worry about the quality at first. That’s what revision is for. And sometimes you have to write badly just to clear the throat. The key is to write something.

Someone writes an un-authorized biography about your life. What would the title be?
A Cultivation of Obscurity.

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

Cedric Tillman holds a BA in English from UNC-Charlotte and graduated from American University's Creative Writing MFA program. He is a Cave Canem fellow and a former Boston Review "Discovery" Contest semifinalist. Cedric's poems have appeared in several publications including Crosscut, Folio, The Drunken Boat, Kakalak, The Chemistry of Color, and Home Is Where: An Anthology of African American Poets From the Carolinas. In 2011, his debut collection was a semifinalist selection for the 42 Miles Press Poetry award; the manuscript, titled Lilies in the Valley, was published by Willow Books in 2013. He lives in Charlotte.

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Cedric will lead a poetry workshop titled "The Marrow: Cutting the Fat." Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life . . .” In this workshop, we will discuss how to get at the marrow of our poetry, and consider ways we can “rout” all that isn’t poetry―unless, of course, we wish to make a statement about what poetry can be. Specifically, we’ll discuss wordiness, the utility of reading your work aloud, and the extent to which word choice can (or ought to) be affected by prospective audiences. Register now! 

 

What are you reading right now?
Right now, I’m reading A Testament of Hope, a collection of MLK’s speeches and writings edited by James M. Washington. I’m also reading Derrick Harriell’s collection Cotton. I just finished Wendy S. Walters’ Troy, Michigan, and I highly recommend it.

Where is your favorite place to write?
I like to write in libraries, restaurants, and coffeehouses, but I write most productively in dimly lit areas; the ability to see other stuff is a distraction. I often go into my basement, where I have a lamp with these six tenacle-like bulb sockets that are gradually dying one by one. When one goes out I just move the bulb to the next one until I find one that works...in any case, the light from one bulb is as much as I want to have.

If you weren't a writer, what kind of job would you like to have?
Probably something sports-related. I regret not trying to play football beyond sandlot. There really isn’t enough sports poetry, BTW. I need to get at it somehow. I’d love to be a GM of a basketball team.

Like many writers, I’d actually like to be more of a writer―I’m a very part-time writer with a full-time job. I also have what is almost certainly a romanticized idea of working in government in some role that would make me feel I was enhancing the quality of life of fellow citizens in some way. Teaching has always intrigued me but I learned quickly that doing it part-time and trying to juggle it with a full-time gig and a family wasn’t the ticket.

Who has influenced your writing style the most?
I bring a few people with me whenever I write. I love Charles Bukowski’s audacity. His Last Night of the Earth completely blew me away, and not in that trite, b.s. manner we poets typically use the phrase “blew me away.” That audacity gave me license. And then I went to get an MFA where nothing he did would’ve passed muster―and so those impulses were reigned in, but his resistance to decorum pops up in my own work.

I love Gwendolyn Brooks’ elegance. I actually like her pre-60’s/Black Arts Movement stuff more, her more formal era where she managed to stuff subtle critique into sonnets, for example. I am very much a Hemingway fan; his use of implication is masterful, the way he manages to set moods without delineating with specifics. Cornelius Eady’s poetry works in this way for me too―not a lot of fancy verbal gymnastics―just careful word choice and a way of being accessible without being facile.

If you could switch places with one fictional character, who would it be?
I don’t get to nearly as much fiction as I’d like to. My gut, off-the-top-of-the-head response is Gatsby. He played himself in the Daisy situation, wanted too much too soon. Or perhaps, should’ve been contented with the “attention” he was getting. I could’ve shown him how to go about this thing. He was never going to take her from Tom’s money. Something about that story will always stick in my craw. If you’ve ever been the little guy, you want Gatsby to win.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from Fall Conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
My workshop will center on issues around editing, such as the utility of reading what you believe to be finished work aloud to yourself and avoiding wordiness. I hope attendees come away with a stronger sensitivity to redundancy, more of an ability to see the points in a poem at which they were striving to have something they could call a poem at the expense of the poetry. We are guilty sometimes of just wanting to use more vertical lines space on a page so we feel like we wrote a poem. Often the real poem is there and there’s just fat around the pith.

Charlotte is known as both "The Queen City" and "The Hornet's Nest." Does one of those nicknames ring more true for you than the other?
I refer to Charlotte as “The QC.” That’s what I’ll always use. The city’s prominence in banking and financial services brings to mind power and prestige and from there it’s not a big leap to associate those characteristics with royalty―so the name has some resonance today beyond its original derivation from Queen Charlotte. I’m so glad we have the Hornets back. It’s good to have the team’s name reunited with the Revolutionary War-era history of the area. I hope the corporate moniker doesn’t prevent us from going back to referring to our stadium (now Time Warner Arena) as “The Hive” instead of “The Cable Box,” but outside of sports this is “The QC.” Most importantly, “QC” is more compact and sounds cooler.

A panel on Sunday is titled, "The Many Paths to Publication." What's the first thing you ever published?
The first thing I ever published (other than one of those contests I entered in high school where you submit and everyone gets published that pays) was a poem called “Read This Back.” It was published in an anthology of poets from the Carolinas called Kakalak, in 2006. A friend from work saw an ad for submissions in Creative Loafing and suggested it to me. My book, Lilies in the Valley, came about through a chance meeting of a reader for Willow Books at a Cave Canem Foundation writing conference. She forwarded my manuscript to the poetry editor, Randall Horton. I’d met Randall at the 2009 Cave Canem Workshop but didn’t know anything about Willow. It took a lot of revision and a year and a half or so to get the go-ahead but I’m thrilled that Willow gave me a shot.

Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Accessible, emotional, inimitable.

What is the most frustrating or rewarding part of the writing process?
It usually takes me a long time to come up with something I feel good about sharing with people. It’s finding the time to put in the time you know you’ll have to put in to get something you’re happy with that’s most frustrating. The problem is you’re never happy or content until you make that time and flesh out the idea(s) in your head, so there’s always a nagging sensation of guilt and responsibility lingering around every spare moment.

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
Stay in your lane. You can branch out but don’t ever think your experiences and your background is unworthy of being elevated in importance or illuminated by writing. Don’t let people make you feel that way, and don’t let you make you feel that way. It’s OK that your story isn’t their story―your story is somebody’s story, and a lot of people who won’t speak for themselves, who aren’t moved to put pen to pad won’t see themselves if you don’t declare that people like you and people like them exist.

If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
The Bible. I can think of several books I think every American should read (The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. DuBois, The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson, The Debt by Randall Robinson) but it’s hard to think of more than the one that I’d recommend to the world.

Describe your ideal literary festival. Who would give the keynote address? Who would be the featured readers? What else?
I’ll stick to the living on this one, on the off chance that my wildest dream comes true. The mélange of styles and spirits would be CRAZY! (commencing name drop…) On the poetry side I’d have so much of my Cave Canem people that it’d probably resemble another one of its workshop retreats. I’d have people I know and people I don’t know whose work I admire from afar. Right now I’m thinking Cornelius Eady and Colleen McElroy and Derrick Harriell and Wendy Walters and Brian Gilmore and L. Lamar Wilson and Joseph Ross and Alan King and Derrick Brown. People from grad school like Sandra Beasley, Venus Thrash, Ebony Golden, Myra Sklarew. Pat Buchanan (yes, that Pat Buchanan―rough segue, huh?). Lisa Schamess and Edward P. Jones to rep for fiction. I’d have Timothy Keller, who’s book The Reason for God might be the second-most important book I’ve ever read, be the keynote. Just a bunch of talented, funny, thoughtful, serious spirits. Maybe a two/three day deal with presentations and Q&As and small groups. A little something for everyone.

Do you steal hotel pens?
Not without a complete absence of guilt. It’s for a good cause.

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

 
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