Friday, July 29, 2011

Contest and writers conference: "Go home and write"

We gathered in Huntsville at the annual conference of the Alabama Writers Conclave to learn more about the craft of writing and to get our awards.

The “we” are writers -- folks who like to put words on paper and tell stories, through fiction or non-fiction, poems or humor. There are a few professionals in the bunch – people who have mostly earned a living by writing and communication, like me -- but this group is generally made up of folks who love the language and are willing, even compelled, to do the work and experience the sometimes-joy that is writing. There are executives and retirees, teachers, attorneys and sales people, all who close the door and write, because they love it, are good at it and have stories to tell.

At the AWC annual conference, we pile into rooms and learn about dialogue, showing, telling and playing with time in fiction, editing poems, op-eds, and that elusive “writer’s voice.”

Members can also pay a small fee and have a formal critique of a piece of work. I had my novel, first chapter, critiqued by our featured speaker, a rabbi with 24 non-fiction books to his credit. Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Ph.D, who spoke to us on topics including “What would Jesus Tweet? The Power of Writing Short,” told me I was giving away too much too soon in the second draft of my Southern, magic-laced novel. But, he liked it and the characters he met in the first 10 pages. So, I am revising, again.

Also, the AWC has an annual writing contest, a literary competition, in which folks enter from all over the U.S. and, this year, also Canada and Brazil.

This blogger placed in the humor category for Three Generations and Kid Rock: Seeing it in Color, and I was an excited as a kid with an all-As report card when I got my certificate. Now I can and will say I am an Alabama Writers Conclave literary competition award winner.

Selected works from the winners of each year’s contest are featured in, posted on the AWC website. Here is the link, where my blog post on going to see Kid Rock with Granma, daughter and niece, which is about several posts back, is featured on page 184. is good reading. I’ll point you to:

• The winner of novel, first chapter, by Hank Henley, a scholastic book sales executive. It’s a stunningly clever first chapter that makes me want to see Hank get this published. We all want to get published.

• The first chapter, novel, by my new writer friend Jo Wharton Heath, a retired mathematics professor at Auburn University (my alma mater). The piece is called The Man in the Blue Demin Shirt.

• And, check out the humor piece by Birmingham Judge Debra Goldstein, about legal matters at a long-running mah-jongg group. U.S. Administrative Judge Goldstein published her first novel this year, a mystery called Maze in Blue.
When you have the time, check out, and let these folks tell you some stories.

I learned a lot at the meeting, and came back with tactics and knowledge I didn’t have before, plus revisions in my head and a renewed determination to “shut the door and write one word at a time” as Stephen King advises me from the post-it note on my computer.

A final word from the out-going AWC president Greg Screws, who is a television newman in Huntsville, summed it up. He said, “Go home and write.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Missing the BEACH and all that goes with it

It’s been almost a month since THE WEEK AT THE BEACH.

I miss sound of the surf, the lazy mornings, afternoons and evenings.

I miss the shrimp. We had it steamed, fried, boiled, po-boyed, gumboed, saladed and sauted.

I miss the slowing of time but not the rushing by of days when all-of-a-sudden, it’s time to pack up and leave.

I miss the sand, the shells, the breeze, the salty smell, even the jellyfish surge that made tipping into the Gulf for relief an exercise in watching and wading, diligence and expedience.

I miss the sunsets, the days spent rotating angles with the sun as afternoon moved to evening, evening to dark.

I miss sleeping to the sound of the water moving in its continuous moon-inspired dance, sleeping the sleep of a child after a day in the sun and water, a child without worries.

I miss not having to go anywhere or do anything, but be there.

I even miss the morning appearances of the beach clean-up crews, still bankrolled (as it should be) by BP.

They cruised in early each day, stopping on the beach near our Quik-Shade beach outpost. They’d roll to a slow halt in their sand-worthy Mule-type vehicle equipped with a portable porta-potty, an unusual and glaring sight, likely a requirement of work safety standards but blending in on the beach like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine (Dylan reference).

The crew of two to five brightly-vested, wide-brim capped workers carried small nets and searched for tar balls, any remnant of the April 20, 2010 oil spill mess.

“Everyting’s fine, ma’am,” one of them told me in a Cajun accent, when I was out early with my book and a Screwdriver and asked what they were finding. Judging from their nets, they were finding water bottles, chip bags, cigarette butts and dried-up jelly fish. Once, we watched from our balcony as they dug a series of holes perpendicular to the beach, likely looking for year-old oil sludge layers.

I found the continuing presence of oil spill clean-up workers on the beaches I have loved my whole life both reassuring and unsettling. Grateful for the diligence and glad to see anyone with a job, I just wish it’d never happened.

I feared for our Paradise then and now, noting the SUVs and pick-ups in the condo parking lot and knowing without that oil and the gasoline producers we cursed in the spring and summer of 2010, how would I get to my WEEK AT THE BEACH?

But, I didn’t, couldn’t, can’t solve that problem, not during that beloved and missed vacation week, and not now.

I just miss the beach and all that goes with it.


Picture(s) of the day:
The oil-BP beach patrol on it's morning rounds.
That's our Quik Shade behind it, the best $50
ever spent for a WEEK AT THE BEACH.

     Last Sunset: Rolling in the Quik-Shade

Song of the Day:

Changes in Latitudes, Jimmy Buffett

These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
Nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands,
If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane