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An Interview with Carteret Writers, Inc.: President Melissa Kelley, Vice President Emily Carter, and Secretary Autumn Ware on the Summer Doldrums Challenge and Relaunch

The Carteret Writers’ organization aims to support, connect, and inspire writers from Carteret, Craven, Pamlico, Jones, Onslow, and Beaufort counties. This summer they hosted their first event of the new season: the 2022 Summer Doldrums Challenge. From July 23 to August 6, writers from across North Carolina participated in daily writing prompts and shared their favorite lines (a.k.a Golden Lines) each week.

The Carteret Writers’ member with the highest total word count was Jessi Waugh, and Joyce Allan was the perfect attendance winner. Jennifer Heironomous’s Golden Line “All she has is a homemade bag containing exactly what she needs” was the local member favorite. Twelve-year-old Cora Kaufman clocked a total of 10,037 words over the course of the challenge, and she and her mother Charlotte both contributed several of the member-favorite Golden Lines. The local participants picked up their prizes at Carteret Writers’ first meet-and-greet of the new season on August 11, 2022.

NCWN Communications Director Katherine O’Hara interviewed President of Carteret Writers Melissa Kelley, Vice President Emily Carter, and Secretary Autumn Ware on their organization’s latest event and relaunch:

Katherine O’Hara: I love that you strive to engage, nurture, and connect writers in Carteret County and beyond through social events, workshops, conferences, and small critique groups. Can you tell me a little bit more about the programs you offer?

Melissa Kelley: Carteret Writers has consistently hosted monthly meetings with guest speakers and open mic/critique opportunities. We are expanding upon that to add in online challenges, like our recently completed Summer Doldrums Challenge, and varying the format of our monthly meetings to reach all of our diverse members. On Tuesdays, we offer a communal writing session (currently at Reed’s Coffee + Art + Frames) for members to sit together and jam through their current projects while enjoying and supporting local businesses.

Emily Carter: Much like many organizations across the globe, Carteret Writers suffered mightily during the pandemic. Writing is a solo sport, but writers need community. Re-entering the atmosphere post-pandemic, along with a new leadership board, has been a real boost for the creatives of our region. Our board ranges in age, experience, writing genres, and strengths. 2023 will be the quadrennial anniversary of our organization. We have BIG plans for next year.

We launched Fall 2022 with a Meet Up / Open Mic event. We had local live music by Old Age & Treachery and celebrated the winners of our Summer Doldrums challenge. We have the rest of 2022 mapped out with events and contests with our overarching goal being that of service to our members to increase engagement and participation.

Autumn Ware: Last August, my creative energy was at an all time low. I really felt like I was not going to get my magic back. I joined Thomas Kies’ Creative Writing class at Carteret Community College to try to jog myself out of it, and that’s where I met Melissa and Emily and got connected with Carteret Writers. The local writers I’ve met here have welcomed me, encouraged me, challenged me gently to grow, and that sense of community and accountability informs our program goals. We want writers to be excited about writing and about being in community, so we’re trying anything that might foster excitement from Tuesday morning meet ups at the local coffee shop or a virtual challenge with participants from as far off as California.

KOH: What is an event or program at Carteret that you feel particularly proud of?

EC: I feel particularly happy that our board came together with such zest and works like a honed machine. (Most of us didn’t even know each other this time last year.) When the former leadership of Carteret Writers expressed intentions to transition, we pulled our crew together and stormed into our new roles with lots of questions and uncertainty offset by exuberance and enthusiasm. We show up to our meetings and events with adoration for our coastal community and for the love of writers and writing. It is a real joy to be part of this board.

AW: The Summer Doldrums Challenge. We were figuring out the logistics of the challenge at the same time as we were launching the website. It was all on a tight schedule with not much time for testing or room for error, but we pulled it off, and people really seemed to enjoy it! Maybe a few people even did some writing that they wouldn’t have done otherwise, and that gives me a thrill.

MK: Emily spoke of the way our Board has come together, and Autumn is rightfully proud of the Summer Doldrums Challenge and the website and newsletter upgrades that she led to make it possible. I love both of these things and will highlight how we are trying to orient our organization on supporting our members and helping them improve. In some cases, we are helping people get into writing for the first time. In other cases, we are giving seasoned writers a nudge to get their current projects done and promoted.

KOH: Tell me more about Carteret’s relaunch. Your new website is beautiful! What are your goals for the organization in the coming months/years?

MK: The Carteret Writers Board consists of writers that have been members for many years, and others that joined in 2021. This mix of experience with our local Arts partners and fresh perspectives has resulted in an abundance of ideas for how we can help our members become better writers. Our short term goals are to enliven our monthly meetings with things that enhance our members professional portfolio and spark their creativity by injecting some fun. We will host more online challenges in the upcoming months, and our ultimate long term goal is to host a high quality mini-conference or workshop for writers in coastal North Carolina.

EC: This credit goes to Autumn and Jack Ware and their diligence toward excellence and technological expertise. I don’t know the magic voodoo that they pull off behind the scenes, but it is awesome. So proud of our site and our updated newsletter.

AW: Emily is onto something because I do think of websites as magical. A well-executed website makes a project real. Jack and I would’ve been content to just get the site launched by August, but we managed to also get it usable in time for the challenge – by the skin of our teeth. We’re going to continue to build out the site in the coming year. We’re envisioning a social hub with member profiles and some gamification. The [Summer Doldrums] challenge showed us how far we can make waves outside of our own county, so why not explore that?

KOH: Can you tell me more about this year’s Summer Doldrums Challenge? 

MK: The Summer Doldrums Challenge was a great example of the creativity of our Board members. We wanted to reach out to our members and stay engaged with them after being installed as the new Board at the last meeting before a summer pause.

What I enjoyed most about our Meet-and-Greet and Open Mic on August 11th was seeing people come together and share their love of writing.

EC: I am blown away by the participation and excitement over something that has the word doldrum in the title! The submissions were outstanding and the participants are asking what are we going to do next. That is the most telling summary for me.

Our Meet Up / Open Mic was first class. We secured a great space in our old train depot, served light refreshments and wine, and featured live music while people networked and visited with one another. Most of the writers present read from their work with the spirit of support and encouragement for one another.

AW: The Summer Doldrums Challenge was fifteen days of prompts from late July through early August – the dog days of summer. We weren’t going to be starting up with actual events until the fall, so we wanted to do something to start community building sooner. You can see all of the prompts on the Challenge page of the website, and we’re looking into publishing an e-anthology of the Golden Lines that participants submitted throughout the challenge. I was thrilled by the response. We had 31 total participants, and many of them submitted every day. Altogether, we wrote a novella’s worth of creative expression. Not too shabby for our first event!

KOH: What is a piece of writing advice that helped better inform who you are as a writer?

MK: I spent 24 years in the military, and that experience expanded my view of what a person is capable of in a couple of ways.  I constantly saw examples of people from all walks of life that came together to complete complex missions, and I saw individual strengths emerge in so many unexpected places as we all worked together. My view of what I was capable of stretched beyond my perceived limits in so many different ways as I was pushed to do things that I never would have attempted otherwise. While not advice on writing specifically, it left me with a mind open to new experiences and trying new things. I am relatively new to writing as a craft as opposed to for work and am enjoying exploring using words in ways that are fun and artful rather than terse and purpose driven.

EC: “Treat your setting like a character. Establish a sense of place that evokes all the senses and makes your story come alive.” Rick Bragg, Instructor of CNF at Looking Glass Writers’ Conference, 2021

AW: My husband Jack advised me to start a copywriting business back in 2014. I had been an English teacher up until that time, and the education system had taken a toll on my confidence. I couldn’t imagine being paid to be a writer. I was highly dubious, but I took his advice, and I’ve been able to earn more as a writer than I ever did as a teacher with considerably less work that I enjoy more. As an added bonus, I’ve been able to advise former students and former teaching colleagues interested in making writing a professional goal, so that was the writing advice that has kept on giving.