Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Happened in Vegas...

By Deborah Wright Yoho

The last time I visited Vegas, the year was 1967 and I was fifteen years old. My family was passing through on our way to our new home in the Philippines. For an hour we ogled the bright lights of the Strip through the car windows, and I wondered why women wore high heels with their short-shorts as they teetered along on the sidewalks. We marveled at Frank Sinatra’s name on the marquee at the Sands, and then my parents scuttled us off to our beds at a small motel two blocks away from the hubbub.

Las Vegas today looks more like Disney on steroids than a playground for the Rat Pack. If it is possible to camouflage unbridled gambling and drinking to appear wholesome, the spin doctors of Vegas have done it. McDonald’s fits right in between the Paris and MGM casinos. You have to look closely to find a wedding chapel or an establishment advertising topless exotic dancers.

Ralph and I were quick to explain to everyone in South Carolina that we were visiting Las Vegas to attend my high school reunion, not to gamble. I had to hurry to clarify that I didn’t go to school there but overseas instead, and that Vegas was a destination venue rather than a pilgrimage to stoke the home fires.

I wasn’t that keen on looking up old boyfriends anyway, but wanted instead to promote my book, a memoir about high school days in the Philippines. So I hired a graphic artist to design a poster and a flyer to tote along on the plane.

The results were mixed. People seemed impressed that I was writing a book and were happy to reminisce with me, but I found we didn’t have the same memories! Why was I so surprised? I hadn’t realized that the Air Force base we lived on was large enough to provide such a rich diversity of experience. As I talked with people who remembered me and with many who didn’t, I frantically took notes.

On the red-eye flight back to South Carolina, I pondered whether to incorporate any of the stories I had heard into my tome. Abruptly I realized I am now faced with a new list of questions as I think about what to write: is my story just MY story, or is it really about a unique time and place? What’s more interesting, the things we all had in common there or the individual experiences that were different? At a distance of more than 40 years, can I trust my own recollections? And if I can’t, how significant are my own biases in relation to the purpose of the book? I thought I was nearly finished. Now I find I must start over.

Tom Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” He was right.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Writer


I was in private practice as a therapist for 20 years, part of that time
working with politicians. (Try doing that for a living!) I also traveled
the world presenting corporate training and motivational workshops.

I have one super son and two wonderful daughters, as well as six grandchildren and one great grandson. All are successful and talented. (Thank goodness!)

After all of my travels and adventures, my head was filled with knowledge
of many unusual experiences and I wanted to commit them to paper so I
retired, or at least I TRIED to retire, to begin writing. That lasted four

My 92 year-old mother always told me that "I had ants in my pants, sand in
my shoes and my mind was never in the same place for more than five
minutes." I guess she was right because I am still moving in several
directions at the same time. I am a partner in two businesses, Trilogy
Library Services and The Home Staging Group. Trying to wear three hats all
the time, I find that I have very little time to get that “sand in my
shoes.” I am way to busy.

I keep THINKING that SOON I'll stop all of this nonsense and spend my time
doing some real work like unfolding a chair on the beach in lazy, crazy
Key West, FL, while I write. However, every time my thoughts move in that
direction my over-zealous mind says; "Oh yea, lady! That just ain't gonna
happen anytime soon."

So, I continue planning my escape from the REAL world where I can move at
a slower pace, write until my pens run out of ink and become consumed with
counting the grains of sand that collect in my shoes.

Belise's first post follows.

My First Time

By Belise Butler

I’ll always remember my first time.

I was nervous. What would I wear? What would I say? How would it feel?

As I entered the hotel, I told myself, “it’s okay, be calm, you’ll love it … and I did.


One of my favorite words is WOW! It conveys anything I want it to. For me, since it was ‘my first time’ it reflected a multitude of feelings. I was ecstatic, excited, enthusiastic, and completely out of my mind with anticipation.

This was officially ‘my first time’ at a writers’ conference and I was hooked. Upon arriving, I was nervous about my critique and cleverly talked Ginny Padgett into visiting the nearby hotel watering hole for one of their special relaxers in a glass. Having been a professional trainer and motivational speaker for companies all over the world, I was always in charge. This time I was not only, not in charge, I was not in control of my emotions. I had to keep remembering that this was different and…after all, it was ‘my first time’

The next morning in the dining room, I sat at a table where three people were deep in conversation. I knew I would blend right in because I had been extremely loquacious since I arrived. Every time I entered the elevator I had a captivate audience. I took advantage of it talking to each person on-board, and escorting them to their floor first, chatting the entire time. I must admit I was distraught when they each exited on various floors and I had to continue alone.

Most of the programs at the conference were excellent. By the end of this way-too-short event I had filled a hundred-page note book. However, I must be truthful and tell you that ninety-four pages of my precious journal were written so rapidly that it looked like a foreign language. Upon review I was sure that I had mistakenly picked up a book belonging to someone from Japan.

‘My first time’ was outstanding. I appreciated the many speakers though out the event. And WOW! I felt a new wave of excitement when Wendy Sherman critiqued my material and shared her thoughts about the MS. I have no doubt that the entire room thought I had just won the lottery when she asked me to rework the first six pages and then send her fifty pages. I don’t normally squeal or jump up and down in public, however I remind you that it was ‘my first time’…and I did.

I applaud the volunteers who gave their time and energy to provide talented professionals. Who, for the most part, were generous in sharing their suggestions and directives for achieving the goals that each participant there had gathered to hear--how to create an outstanding masterpiece.

It was ‘my first time’…but it won’t be my last.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

2010 SCWW Conference Notes

By Bonnie Stanard

In a word - wonderful! Since a carload of us from Columbia II rode together, we caroused for two hours before getting lost in Myrtle Beach and finally arriving. Our check-in at the Hilton was quick and painless, and the condo had a spectacular view of the Atlantic. For me, the best part of the conference was the camaraderie with my fellow writers.

Friday night, author James Born started our conference with a dinner speech on his experiences writing police thrillers. He’s the kind of writer you’d like to have over for dinner sometime. Apparently our complaints about the food last year were addressed, though the acoustics of the banquet room weren’t. We found ourselves shouting to be heard above the din.

As for the sessions, prose took the spotlight with presentations covering traditional genres. Perhaps too traditional, for a nod to more innovative writing would have spiced things up (e.g. creative nonfiction, graphic novel, prose poetry, flash fiction). Also, I’d like to see more encouragement for screenwriting.

As usual, agents and editors appeared on the schedule with presentations to ease our tensions about the submission process and publishing. As for faculty, I’d like to see more agents from small/boutique houses. Those of us trying to sell our first or second novel would like to meet independent publishers, which were practically missing from the program. The 'elephant in the room' was self-publishing, which agents and editors tried to ignore. We needed more helpful information on this topic.

The sessions I attended were adequate and came from the 'establishment' in the industry. Joshilyn Jackson gave the tip I liked best: “stop caring about the latest literary trend.” Perhaps I could remember something author Ann Love said about the children’s market if she had provided either a hand-out or visual aid. However, I entered this discussion after a pitch session went bad and that’s all I could think about.

My second pitch on Sunday morning wasn’t as disappointing as the previous one. Agent Suzie Townsend said my race was a factor but not insurmountable. The previous afternoon Agent Raychelle Gardner said in so many words that slave stories are the prerogative of African Americans. She presented this as not just her opinion but that of publishing in general. Though discouraging, the two sessions provided me with the important insight that NYC agents/publishers are unlikely to consider a debut novel about a black slave written by a white person.

By the time my Sunday morning pitch was over and I arrived at the conference rooms, the sessions were well underway. Although I knew my way around, I couldn’t find a room marked as Palisades F and thus missed out on a presentation I wanted to see.

Overall the conference was a success, though there were some complaints—the cancellation of some sessions, Saturday lunch keynote presentation, and a long-winded announcement of the Carrie McCray awards. Once again I’m amazed at the professionalism of Lateia Sandifer, Carrie McCullough, Barbara Evers, their staff, and volunteers. Our thanks to them for their many hours of work. Columbia II’s donations to the silent auction compared favorably with other baskets, thanks to Ginny Padgett and Belize Butler.

CORRECTION: My thanks to Carrie McCullough for setting the record straight: "Noticed a big error in [your] blog -- Barbara had absolutely NOTHING to do with this year's conference. And we don't have a staff, at all. Wouldn't it be nice if we did?"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Perfect Workshop

By Monet Jones

Many thousands of years ago, or so it seems, I graduated from Hannah High School. My graduating class consisted of twenty-one persons, fourteen girls, and seven boys. The curriculum in that small rural school was naturally limited. Two non-academic courses were considered mandatory; all girls were to take FHA, Future Homemakers of America, and all boys, FFA, Future Farmers of America.

The FFA proved to be an extraordinarily boring class except for three areas, each of which included a contest: electricity, public speaking, and cattle judging. That third area, cattle judging, has had a greater than expected impact on my life because of one learned principle. In order to judge or compare cattle or anything else, one must first determine a perfect example of that which is to be judged.

As one might suppose on reading the title of this article, I set out to describe the perfect writer’s workshop. I started by looking for a definition. Since I didn’t find a good one in my research, I made up my own and present it that my readers, both of you, might critique it.

An environment or gathering of respectful peers wherein one might use words to depict original concepts or events, and receive constructive nonjudgmental criticism of said depictions.
For a participant to receive maximum benefit from a workshop, I believe one must be familiar, but not necessarily friends, with other members. My reasoning here is that in order for comments to be constructive, an evaluated writer must expect criticism from respected peers. If a writer chooses to use familiarity or intimidation to prevent criticism, the concept of a workshop is perverted.

I recently presented some material that connected two big scenes on my current novel. I had not spent as much time on it as I should have. The workshop members made that point very clear.

R - too many long sentences and holes in plot
B - too many repetitions of same idea, POV errors
G2 - “that” not a good connector and two improbable scenes
K – ignorant of how young girls might react to a situation
L - didn’t like me, my work, or the horse I rode in on
D - helpful in showing proper paragraph separation and comma use
G - mixed in a positive comment with several faults
I think Columbia II workshop approaches perfection. I love the camaraderie as we get together but have no doubt the friendliest person there will savage my material if it’s not properly written. That is as it should be.