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Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer

Three years before Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductee Elizabeth Spencer published The Voice at the Back Door, one of “the earliest novels recounting racial tension in the South.”

Spencer was nominated for the 1957 Pulitzer Prize. But instead of awarding what is arguably literature’s most distinguished honor to a female writing truthfully and unblinkingly about the small-town American South, no Pulitzer Prize in fiction was given that year.

Or so the story goes.

Now a new generation of readers can appreciate the work of one of North Carolina’s literary giants through a new documentary, Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story. This film offers a window into an extraordinary author’s life and work, viewed through the prism of her Southern lineage. It features archival photography and film clips, re-enactments, and interviews with many of today’s most important writers of the American South.

Bookmarks, in collaboration with RiverRun, will screen Landscapes of the Heart on Tuesday, April 8, at 6:30 pm, at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem. This event will be free and open to the public.

Elizabeth Spencer was born in Carrollton, Mississippi, in 1921 to a storytelling and book-loving family in a community steeped in the oral traditions of the South, and subsequently set many of her works in the hill country and deltas of Mississippi and Louisiana. The author of nine novels, many fine short stories, and the famous novella The Light in the Piazza, Spencer has received the Award of Merit Medal for the Short Story from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, of which she is a member. She has also been awarded the Cleanth Brooks Medal by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. Many of her stories and short fiction have been collected, including in The Southern Woman (2001), published to wide critical acclaim.

Now in her nineties, Spencer published a new collection of short stories, Starting Over, in 2014 (Liveright Publishing Corporation). One of the stories in this book, “On the Hill,” was called “one of the best stories I’ve ever read” by Malcolm Jones in the New York Times Book Review.

For more information about Landscapes of the Heart, click here.

Six Things about Elevator Pitching You Won’t Hear from Me Live

by Linda Rohrbough

Linda Rohrbough

Linda Rohrbough

At the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2014 Spring Conference, I’ll be leading my “How to Make an Elevator Pitch” workshop. In it, I’ll teach a three-step formula that works for any book. Want to hear more? I’ll let you in on my secrets live on Saturday afternoon, April 12. But in the meantime, let me tell you six things I’m sure I won’t have time to say in class.

    1. Most new writers feel they have to be all things so some editor or agent will pay attention to them. That’s simply not true, and it’s the quickest way to produce failure.
    2. Every writer, no matter how experienced, has some level of fear when pitching. What’s important is to understand the concept that you can use fear to your advantage, and learn how to make fear work for you instead of against you.
    3. Writers stop improving their elevator pitch at the point where they sell the book. They do this because they figure if the pitch sold the book, it’s good enough. I agree. However, there are basic ways to make a pitch work, and it can always be improved.
    4. I failed miserably the first couple of times I tried to pitch my fiction. I failed pitching my nonfiction too, but the fiction failures were worse because I thought I had enough experience writing professionally to be heard. This is why I did the work to come up with my formula, which I use for my own work.
    5. Most successful writers learned how to pitch by trial and error, with years of practice. Yes, you can learn the same way. But do you really want to? Wouldn’t you rather short-cut that process?
    6. This is a false statement: “You just need a one-sentence pitch.” I’d like to find whoever started that rumor and straighten them out. Although it’s so widespread now, I’m not sure it’s possible to trace the source.

One thing you will hear me say in my workshop is that pitching is a lifelong skill. Since writing is a lifelong profession, that makes sense.

I’m smiling as I write this because I’m looking forward to teaching this workshop. It’s one of my favorites and fresh for me every time I teach it. Plus, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my NCWN friends, including having lunch with a limited number of attendees who sign up early.

Here’s the link for the NCWN Spring Conference registration. If you sign up by April 6, you can get a discount. (Hint, hint.) Hope to see you there!

Famous Meals in Literature

 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

As writers, we know everything about our characters—their likes and dislikes, how they respond to challenges, their hopes and dreams. But what about the food they eat?

There are some truly memorable meals in literature: the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; the bouillabaisse made by Henry Perowne in Ian McEwan’s Saturday; how canned peaches become a true delicacy in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Now fifty of literature’s most famous meals have been photographed and collected in Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals by Dinah Fried.

Fictitious Dishes serves up a delectable assortment of photographic interpretations of culinary moments from contemporary and classic literature. Showcasing famous meals such as the watery gruel from Oliver Twist, the lavish chicken breakfast from To Kill a Mockingbird, the stomach-turning avocado-and-crabmeat salad from The Bell Jar, and the seductive cupcakes from The Corrections, this unique volume pairs each place setting with the text from the book that inspired its creation. Interesting food facts and entertaining anecdotes about the authors, their work, and their culinary predilections complete this charming book, which is sure to whet the appetites of lovers of great literature and delicious dishes.

Fictitious Dishes will be published by HarperCollins in April, 2014. You can preview some of Dinah’s selected meals here.

Carrie Knowles Named New Piedmont Laureate

Carrie Knowles, 2014 Piedmont Laureate

Carrie Knowles, 2014 Piedmont Laureate

Longtime North Carolina Writers’ Network member Carrie Knowles, of Raleigh, has been selected as the 2014 Piedmont Laureate in the Short Story.

As Piedmont Laureate, Knowles will receive an honorarium and serve until December 31, 2014. Her duties will include presenting public readings and workshops, participating at select public functions, and creating at least one original activity to expand appreciation of short fiction.

Knowles also will lead a workshop at the NCWN 2014 Spring Conference, “Market Your Book – with Imagination,” with Peggy Payne. This workshop is an opportunity for registrants to “sit at the feet” of the current Piedmont Laureate and learn how to improve their book’s sales, using the very ability that started them writing in the first place: imagination. Attendees will learn tactics and strategies for books and book ideas that other workshop participants bring in.

Spring Conference is a full day of intensive workshops in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book marketing, and the “art of the pitch.” Other features include faculty readings, on-site “lunch with an author,” publisher exhibits, and an open mic for conference participants. Special Sessions include “Speed Pitch,” where registrants will have the opportunity to pitch their manuscript to four literary professionals, and “One City, One Prompt,” led by Jacinta V. White. For more information, and to register, click here.

The Piedmont Laureate program is dedicated to building a literary bridge for residents to come together and celebrate the art of writing. Co-sponsored by the Durham Arts Council, City of Raleigh Arts Commission, Alamance County Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission, and United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County, the program’s mission is to “promote awareness and heighten appreciation for excellence in the literary arts throughout the Piedmont region.” The program focuses on a different literary form each year. Past laureates include NCWN board member Zelda Lockhart (2010); 2013 Spring Conference faculty member Scott Huler (2011); and poet Jaki Shelton Green (2009).

Knowles has been a freelance writer, arts advocate, and organizer for 45 years. She has published dozens of short stories and three books: a memoir titled ” (Three Rivers Press, 2000) and two novels, Lillian’s Garden and Ashoan’s Rug (Roundfire Books, 2013). Noted as one of the top books of 2013 by The Salisbury PostAshoan’s Rug is a novel created from a series of ten linked short stories. Ms. Knowles’ short stories have won numerous awards, including the Village Advocate Fiction Contest, the Blumenthal Writers & Readers Series, the North Carolina Writer’s Network Fiction Syndication, and Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Competition. She was named twice as a finalist in other Glimmer Train competitions, was a finalist in the Doris Betts Fiction Contest, and received an honorable mention in the National Literary Awards.

Who’s Reading These New-Fangled e-Books?

The Science of MarketingBook-marketing guru Sandra Beckwith writes a terrific blog and offers a must-read e-newsletter. In her most-recent, she breaks down a few statistics gleaned from Dan Zarrella’s book The Science of Marketing: When to Tweet, What to Post, How to Blog, and Other Proven Strategies. Zarella “wants you to toss out much of what you’ve heard about social media marketing and focus on what his research tells you instead.”

As Beckwith parses out the data, she comes to some interesting conclusions. Of the 1,000 American adults surveyed, all of whom own a computer or e-reader and have a job paying $70,000 or more:

  • About 65 percent said they read e-books at least once a month.
  • Nearly half said they read fiction e-books.
  • Women were more likely to read fiction e-books than men, while men were more likely to read business e-books than women.

And what about pushing widgets? What can Zarella’s book tell us about how to put our own book in front of readers? The author also asked people how they heard about e-books they read. He learned that:

  • 45 percent learned about them directly from Amazon (more women than men).
  • About 35 percent said “recommendations from friends” (more women than men).
  • The third most common way readers heard about e-books was through search engines (more men than women).

Beckwith concludes that word-of-mouth marketing is essential, and authors must make their books available as e-pubs. And while it’s great to have your book listed in as many outlets as possible, for better or worse Amazon still rules.


NC State Offers Young and Teen Writers’ Workshops

NC State UniversityNorth Carolina State University will offer workshops for youth and teen writers this summer.

Sponsored by the English Department within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and held on NC State University’s campus, in Raleigh, the Young and Teen Writers’ Workshops nurture the creative spirit and teach creative writing skills and techniques.

These summer afternoon workshops are intended for children and teens who already have a demonstrated interest in writing fiction, poetry, plays, and creative nonfiction or who have an enthusiastic desire to learn more about these kinds of writing.

The Young Writers’ Workshop accepts applications from creative writers entering 4th through 8th grades. The 2014 YWW will meet weekday afternoons, July 7-18.

The Teen Writers’ Workshop accepts applications from creative writers entering 9th grade through rising college freshmen. The 2014 TWW will meet weekday afternoons, July 21-Aug. 1.

Applications for the 2014 workshops are now open! For more information about both workshops, contact the director:

Laura Giovanelli

This program is also on Facebook—follow them!

Memorial Service for Louis D. Rubin, Jr.

Louid D. Rubin, Jr.

Louis D. Rubin, Jr.

The University of North Carolina’s Friends of the Library will host a memorial service for Louis D. Rubin, Jr., on Sunday, February 9, at 2:00 pm in the auditorium of the Genome Sciences Building at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rubin was a beloved editor, novelist, essayist, teacher, and publisher. He and Shannon Ravenel co-founded Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 1983 to discover and promote talented new voices of Southern literature—voices like Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Kaye Gibbons, and Clyde Edgerton, among many others. The New York Times called him “a champion of Southern writers.”

“He became something of a literary hero to me even before I met him,” said Edgerton. “After I met him, I respected him even more.”

Rubin came to the University of North Carolina in 1967, following two years at the University of Pennsylvania and ten at Hollins College in Virginia, where he chaired the English department for several years. He remained on UNC’s English faculty for twenty-two years, retiring from teaching in 1989 as University Distinguished Professor of English, and later Emeritus. He left teaching in order to devote his energies full time to Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

He wrote two hours a day and credited his newspaper background with his ability to produce rapidly. “On a newspaper you do the best you can and you get it out,” he said. “You don’t hold it forever. It’s a matter of discipline. I’ve found it very valuable.”

He was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1997.

Parking for the memorial service will be available in the nearby Bell Tower Parking Deck. The service is sponsored by the department of English and comparative literature.

English department chair Beverly Taylor will open and close the service. Speakers include Clyde Edgerton, Joseph Flora, William Harmon, Meg Harper, Jill McCorkle, Shannon Ravenel, and Robert Rubin.

UNC’s Friends of the Library will host a reception in Wilson Library immediately following the service.

For UNC tributes to Rubin, visit

NCWN Membership Coordinator

NCWNThe North Carolina Writers’ Network is seeking a part-time Membership Coordinator to help with all aspects of its operations. This person will work 10 – 15 hours a week through most of the year, and possibly up to 20 hours during the weeks prior to our Spring Conference (April), Squire Summer Writing Residency (July), and Fall Conference (November). The Membership Coordinator will report directly to the Executive Director, and will be paid a wage of $11/hour.

The NCWN Membership Coordinator will be the Network’s “front line” for routine member service. The Membership Coordinator will work from a home office, which must have an independent phone line for Network calls, a high-speed Internet connection, and space for Network files, promotional materials, etc. Candidates must be self-motivated, detail-oriented, and comfortable working alone. They must possess excellent written and oral communication skills, as well as experience with customer/member service. They must be computer-literate, proficient with MS Office programs (Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.), and possess a basic familiarity with e-mail communication, html, and data entry. Experience with blogging software and/or content management systems is a plus.

The primary duties of the Membership Coordinator will include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Enter new-member information into database
  • Send membership packets to new members
  • Send thank-you letters to donors
  • Update expiration date & check database entries for renewing members
  • Check member database for missing or outdated information
  • Be responsible for accuracy of all entries in member database
  • Respond to e-mails, or forward to correct recipient
  • Follow-up on members’ questions or complaints regarding routine member service
  • Assist Network staff before and during conferences & other events
  • Other appropriate duties, as required

The successful candidate will keep regular office hours during the week, preferably sometime between 9 am – 4 pm, Monday through Friday, to take calls and e-mails from members and others.

Applicants should send a cover letter and resume to:

Ed Southern, Executive Director, North Carolina Writers’ Network,


P.O. Box 21591
Winston-Salem, NC 27120

So Who’s Making Money with This Thing?

Writing Income for Different Types of Authors“Self-publishing has revolutionized the publishing industry.”

How many times have you heard that in the past five years? And it’s true that it’s easier now than ever before for authors to publish and to put their writing in front of potential readers—cheaper too. And yet. Even before the invention of the e-reader, very few writers were getting rich—or making any money to speak of—from their writing.

What about now? That’s the question Jeremy Greenfield asked recently on in his article, “How Much Money Do Self-Published Authors Make?” Citing a recent study from Digital Book World and Writers Digest, the median income range for self-published authors is under $5,000 and nearly 20 percent of self-published authors report deriving no income from their writing.

At the high end of the spectrum, 1.8 percent of self-published authors made over $100,000 from their writing last year, compared with 8.8 percent of traditionally published authors and 13.2 percent of hybrid authors.

It’s a little better for authors who publish the traditional way: their median income range was $5,000 to $9,999. “Hybrid authors” (those who both self-publish and publish with established publishers) had a median income range of $15,000 to $19,999.

Bottomline? Outside of that lucky 1.8 percent making over $100K, the rest of us better have day jobs—or a trust fund. That much, at least, hasn’t changed.

Two NC Publications Offer Innovation and Excellence

The New New SouthThe publishing industry is rapidly changing. But two new North Carolina-based publications are redefining media and setting the pace: The New New South and GERM Magazine. Both take fresh approaches to content and both publish exclusively online.

The New New South ( offers “true stories from below the Mason-Dixon.” Founded by publisher Andrew Park of Chapel Hill, The New New South is a new digital publisher of longform journalism. Using the innovative technology platform developed by the creators of The Atavist, they release one in-depth and immersive work of nonfiction at a time for reading on tablets, smartphones, e-readers, and the web. Check out their forward-thinking approach to publishing by reading an excerpt here.

Along with great prose and fascinating subjects, stories on The New New South include YouTube video, photographs, music clips, and more. That’s what they mean by “immersive”—you can lose yourself for a lunch break or two just following the threads.

Two stories in, their authors have included Belle Boggs and Barry Yeoman. Boggs’ “For the Public Good” tells the story of the 7,600 victims of forced sterilization in North Carolina during the 20th century and their decade-long fight to be compensated by the state; Yeoman’s “The Gutbucket King” is an intimate and colorful multimedia profile of Little Freddie King, one of the last great country bluesmen in New Orleans. It includes never-before-heard interviews and music.

GERM Magazine

GERM Magazine’s story, “You are Beautiful”

GERM Magazine ( came out with their first issue yesterday. Focusing on “High school and beyond: Real thoughts, real writing, real life,” GERM is a magazine for girls—high school and beyond—that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in-between. From facts to fiction, beauty to boys, movies to music, how to’s to where to’s, you start here.

GERM has sections for “Lit” (prose, poetry, songs, etc.) and plenty of other offerings—and they’re looking for writers.

Stories in the first issue include “Take a Stand: How I Stopped Bullying” by Elizabeth Meade and “Germ Mix: Ladies Night In” which offers a playlist of exclusively female songwriters. Of course, there are advice columns galore (Ask a Man, Ask a Ninja) and plenty of selfies on the magazine’s active Facebook page.

While print may always have a place in the publishing world, it’s great to see two North Carolina-based publishers pushing the boundaries of what we think of when we think of good literature, and the way we consume it.