Early 10 September, I set out from Raleigh in a rental car — didn't want to put my poor, old Honda through the rigors of the Eastern Continental Divide again — and arrived in Boone, NC in good time for my 10 a.m. workshop on archetypal characters, presented to the High Country Writers (HCW) at the Watauga County Public Library. This was an honor for me because these folks had invited me back after my workshop same time last year on the Hero's Journey. During the presentation this time, we discussed such provocative topics as why Scarlett O'Hara might be classified as a sociopath, and what heroic qualities Satan possesses. Never a dull moment with HCW. Such a fun group with a terrific sense of humor. They took me out to lunch afterward, so now I know there are at least two good Chinese restaurants in Boone. But like last year, I didn't see the sun shine until I left Boone.
After driving an hour and half on two-lane country roads beneath the likes of Grandfather Mountain, I arrived Friday mid-afternoon in Burnsville, home to the 2009 Carolina Mountains Literary Festival (CMLF), where I was again quite honored to be speaking, and I'd again accepted the hospitality of Lucy Doll. After I was squared away in her guestroom, she fed me yummy beans and rice for dinner, then had a small wine-and-munchies gathering at her house. We tried to hang out on her front porch, but it was unseasonably chilly, even after she'd loaned me a coat once worn by actress Helen Hayes, so we eventually migrated inside. Lucy's long-time friend, Leeann Hill, arrived later, from Atlanta, an arduous trip to make in the dark. Leeann writes web-based training for Ceridian. Since I was a technical writer in a previous lifetime, Leeann and I had much to talk about. She stayed next door for the weekend, with Lucy's neighbor, Dan.
Someone from the party left us with a mound of scrumptious, home-baked French bread. Friday morning, Lucy, Leeann, and I knocked out just about all the bread by making French toast. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. Then we all waddled over to the festival.
I'd met Peggy Poe Stern last year at the festival, so I decided to drop in on her early (9 a.m.) session, "Q&A: Writing the Novel," to say hello. Inside, I spotted the moderator and about ten attendees, but no Peggy. Meanwhile, the moderator was homing in on me like I was handing out winning lottery tickets. I told her, "I'm not Peggy. I just dropped by to say hello to her." The moderator pointed to my author badge and said, "I know you aren't Peggy, but you're an author, and Peggy's stuck in gridlock behind a horrible accident involving a fatality, and we need an author to answer questions from these folks who are writing novels." Ulp. Okay. It turns out that these were general questions about writing, not Peggy-specific questions, so I was able to help the writers. (Whew!) And when Peggy did arrived, the CMLF was able to reschedule her session for Friday afternoon. A win-win for Peggy and her audience.
The nasty traffic pileup had also delayed the arrival of Gloria Houston, far left in the image, who was moderating the Keynote panel at 10 a.m. It reminded me that last year, the arrival of Hurricane Ike in the Gulf of Mexico had caused the petroleum pipelines to be shut down to much of the Southeast United States during the CMLF weekend, so speakers a year ago were also delayed while they waited in long lines to buy gas. The theme of the festival this year was "Mountain Mosaic: We All Come from Somewhere Else." Sans Gloria, the other panelists started discussing the relationships between their writing, heritage, and current issues. I'd met Eleanora Tate, second from left, the night before at Lucy's party. In fact, she'd left her Labrador Retriever mix, Shaka (as in Shaka Zulu), at Lucy's house Thursday night because Lucy fosters dogs and could provide a loving doggy motel for authors who traveled with their pets. Eleanora, an award winning author from North Carolina Central University, writes for middle-grade readers. On the panel, we also had Wayne Winkler, second from right, a Melungeon historian and author from East Tennessee State University, who spoke about Melungeons; and Robert Conley, far right, an author from the Western Band of the Cherokee and a Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies. By the time Gloria Houston arrived, the panel had clearly distinguished itself as a mosaic of authors with rich and diversified backgrounds.
Some of Robert's books contain depictions of Cherokee Indians in the Appalachians and have been labeled by publishers as Westerns, simply because of the Indian element. And I've thrown publishers for a loop by writing about the Revolutionary War in the South. Publishers like to categorize and have a hard time figuring out what to do with certain material.
After a delicious lunch of turkey chili, Vicki Lane and I walked over to hear Hal McDonald read from his work in progress, a sequel to The Anatomists, which won Court TV’s "Search for the Next Great Crime Writer" contest and was published by Harper-Collins. Then I listened to Vicki's presentation on how she has pulled together the pieces of her mystery series to present a mosaic of the Western North Carolina mountains.
In this picture, Lucy, draped with doggies (Shelby, Maggie, Mr. Carmichael, and Annie) takes a snooze while Leeann and I wash dinner dishes. Lucy, Leeann, Dan the neighbor, keynote speaker Ann Pancake, and I assembled a delicious dinner Friday night at Lucy's house. After Lucy, a festival coordinator, had been on her feet all day, helping to make the event run smoothly, Leeann and I weren't about to let her wash dishes.
Saturday morning 12 September, I caught the first part of a "shop talk" between Hal McDonald and Vicki Lane. In their session, appropriately titled "High Tea and Apple Cider," these two residents of Madison County with very different backgrounds discussed how they met in the authorship of mysteries. I had to leave early to make sure the equipment for my back-to-back presentations was set up.
It's a presenter's nightmare: you have competition from a couple of powerful concurrent sessions, plus your AV equipment doesn't work. By fifteen minutes into my first session, when we were still unable to coax the projector out of displaying my PowerPoint presentation backwards, I knew I had to start my presentation without the slides, or I'd never finish it on time. The good news: I already had a decent-sized crowd in the room and my next session was in the same room, so I hoped to hang onto much of my audience between sessions and modify the second session to fill in the blanks from the first. In "The Storyteller's Mosaic," I explained the stages of the Hero's Journey for readers and moviegoers (but not to the detail I use for writers), and I used examples from three classical movies to illustrate each stage. Most of my audience comprehended where I was going, despite the lack of a visual. Miraculously, during the break between sessions, the projector got fixed, and the room filled up with more attendees. Due to popular request, I ran through my slides quickly in the second session, before I did a reading from Camp Follower.
My titles in the bookstore area really got bought up after that. Here are some comments from attendees:
"The subject — Hero's Journey — was the best plotting aid I've ever listened to. Even if it's explained by other sources, Suzanne's approach is excellent."
"The best part of the session was Suzanne's clarity, organization, examples and content. Bring her back!!!! Give her a workshop spot. Most useful presentation of the festival."
And here's a comment I didn't expect: "After attending a session in which she substituted, I couldn't miss attending the others." That was in reference to Friday morning's session, when I filled in for Peggy Poe Stern.
Wow, folks, thank you! Grasshopper is so grateful! Maybe I'll get to return to CMLF in 2010 and teach the big workshop on the Hero's Journey and Archetypal Characters that I'm teaching for the Carolina Romance Writers 3 October, in Charlotte.
After lunch I attended Robert Conley's reading about a Cherokee fellow at the turn of the last century who was miscast by the locals as a hoodlum and wrongly arrested several times. He finally got fed up with the injustices in the justice system — timely, with the ongoing exposé of the Innocence Project — and turned to robbing banks during the era of John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd. With wistfulness, Robert painted him a dashing, heroic figure and said he wouldn't have minded being a bank robber in the good old days. Can't say I blame him.
I drove back to Lucy's house for a nap and a cup of tea, fortifying myself for the three-hour happy hour that was coming up. This social was where I really got the opportunity to talk with other guests, such as Richard Allen Taylor, co-editor of Kakalak and poet; the editor of Press 53, Kevin Watson; poet Seabrook Wilkinson; historical novelist Charles F. Price; and author Marlin Barton.
Of course, we all looked forward to the banquet and Ann Pancake's stirring keynote that combined the themes of environmentalism and coexistence. Make myths to preserve and create culture, she encouraged us.
Afterwards, folks showed up at Lucy's house. I chatted with them a few minutes but was too pooped to stay up later, plus I had the drive back to Raleigh in the morning, so I headed for the shower. Thirty seconds into the shower, my hair loaded with shampoo, I heard the Burnsville fire siren sound. The last time I heard a bona fide fire siren was in the 1980s, when I still lived in Florida. Every place I've lived since Florida has had a full-time fire department. Interesting how times have changed.
Sunday morning, Lucy, Leeann, and I had breakfast, then I drove back to Raleigh using a different route, since I didn't have to return through Boone. I'm sure the new route saved me at least half an hour. But on the road just before the switchbacks and serious downgrade out of the Appalachians began, I found myself behind a guy in a late-model car who kept exchanging kisses with a beagle (yes, it was a beagle) in the front seat beside him. Several times, he almost clobbered oncoming traffic. Fortunately, just before the switchbacks, he turned off the road into a Burger King parking lot. I wouldn't have enjoyed watching him kiss the beagle while he navigated the switchbacks. Too much like watching a Darwin Award in the making.
Many thanks to the High Country Writers; the planning committee for the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival, especially Lucy Doll; and all the folks who attended my presentations, wrote such lovely evaluation comments, and purchased my books.
Next up: a presentation for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington on Thursday 24 September.