Sit, Stay, Love

So what do J.K. Rowling and I have in common, you might be wondering?

Hint: it’s not number weeks dominating the best-seller lists (she edges me out), not our royalty income (hers, a tad higher), or even our sultry accents (damn Brits, they always win).

Answer:  We are both Greyhound owners. Or rather, our greyhounds own us. Our muses are elegant, chiseled athletes, pure-bred retired racers. Dignified, sleek, meek, beasts of ripped haunches and silky coat, fast as a flying Quidditch broomstick, gentle as a Sunday afternoon.

Claire and Gus, and above, JK and her greyhound, Sapphire.

Gus, my quite gorgeous Greyhound, is not only the perfect pet, he’s the consummate writer’s companion, everything one wants and needs in a muse. Reliable –always right there, I mean ALWAYS… I don’t have to say “heel” – he’s glued to my heels. Patient. Undemanding. Understanding. He models good writerly traits:  curiosity, an eagerness to sniff everything out, an ability to sit for hours at a time, pensiveness, keeps a regular schedule, doesn’t call attention to himself, playful but well-mannered, wise and wily. And for bonus points, he hails from a breed with an honorable and distinguished literary legacy. Greyhounds are the only dog mentioned in the Bible, were beloved by the ancient Greeks, and waxed poetic by Ovid and Homer. Did he’s adorable and glamorous, too?

But enough about MY pooch. Come to tonight’s book launch for Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers and learn how the tail wags for Jo Humphreys, Dottie Frank, Mary Alice Monroe, Beth Webb Hart and many others. And, here’s an added Milk Bone for you – proceeds from the books benefit the Charleston Animal Society.

Tonight, Tuesday, November 27th

5 to 7 p.m.

Charleston Library Society

Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers

All you Knead

Maybe it was Sandy’s high winds or our recent astronomical tides, I’m not sure, but I do know that Thanksgiving has blown in early this year. About four weeks early by my calculations. Heck, I’m holding out for my husband to make a few more batches of summer gazpacho, and I’ve yet to do my Halloween candy shopping. I’m in denial as boxes of  Stove Top stare me down from the end of the grocery aisles. Stuff it, I say.

I’ve got nothing against Thanksgiving. I’m a huge fan of gratitude mixed with roasted Brussels sprouts, Zinfandel and pecan pie. I love a diverse gathering of pilgrims on various pilgrimages, native peoples in native attire and free range birds of various feathers, with a roasted chestnut or two. I’m just not ready to get sucked into Thanksgiving’s vortex that pulls you in to one end of the little wicker cornucopia then spits you out the other one into full holiday tilt and whirl. Another four weeks and I may be able to stomach snow globes and Bing Crosby, but I’d love to wrap up my August to-do list first.

But the turkey won’t wait, and so, probably like you, my reading of late is of the 1 tablespoon of this and 2 cups of that variety. I’m thumbing through Food & Wine, revisiting forgotten cook books, stumbling upon new ones and generally rummaging through recipes. Which means I’m also lusting after improbably luscious food porn photos where sweet potatoes glisten and pomegranate seeds spill out of their ripe, fleshy fruit in an artsy nonchalance that you don’t want to believe is contrived, much less sprayed with WD-40 for that just-so sheen. More on that in a subsequent post.

But back to the recipes…. one of my favorite of the just-baked batch of cookbooks is Nathalie Dupree’s Southern Biscuits, because like Nathalie, it’s delightfully flakey and much more back-to-basics than frou frou foodie pretense. We’re talking lard, my friends. And gluten. And oh yes, butter and white flour. All the no-n0’s of an increasingly wholier-than-thou whole and artisanal food scene. Now it’s all about sourcing. Whatever happened to just plain good eatin?

Nathalie is a no-nonsense tour de force  in Charleston, both as a hostess and party girl (a die-hard, hell-yeah Democrat), and a dame (literally, a Dame d’Escoffier)  of the Southern culinary front. She’s much more clumsy, classy Julia Child than cutesy Paula Deen, thank gawd, and is more interested in celebrating good food and hospitality than branding herself.

So here’s to adding biscuits and a bit of white fluff to your Thanksgiving table. A nod to tradition, a bite of a simplified era, where a little flour and butter, some just-so kneading and a slather of honey or jam is about all you need. It’s good recession food, actually, and my just take you over the flavor cliff.

The Zine Zinesty

 

With CreateSpace in our backyard, Charleston is on the frontlines of the explosive self-publishing industry. It’s no secret that we are reading and writing in revolutionary times, Kindling our Nooks in new publishing cranies. But long before digital publishing and On Demand printing and companies like CreateSpace, Amazon, LuLu and many others dug under the fence to bypass the nearly impenetrable gates of traditional presses and New York publishing dynasties, there were…zines.

 Zines you say? Yep, zines. Radical rags, underground pubs, kitchen table presses putting out wildly creative and out-of-the box writing and graphic design. Think modern day evolution of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – zines are typically photocopied, small-run (under 1000) hand-made magazines (get it?) that can be on any topic, but often tend toward the fringe. Feminist zines and political zines being prime examples.

 But don’t take my word for it. Zine experts and fans will hold court tomorrow (Saturday) at the Southeast Zine Fest right here at Redux in downtown Charleston. Why should you go? Skirt! magazine’s Margaret Pilarski, a fabulous editor and local zinester who’s behind the Fest, spells it out.

Literary Charleston: Why should literary Charlestonians care about zines?

Margaret: The independent record store 52.5 used to carry zines, but now there’s no local place to find them. When Susan and I started planning this, zinemakers were getting in touch saying they didn’t know anyone else here who made zines and they were so excited that we were going to bring folks together. Zines are such a really amazing old school media, it’s a shame more people in Charleston don’t know what zines are and make them – that’s the broader reason. There are tons of people whose zines Iwould love to read! Beyond words, zines can have drawings or collages, so they’re a fantastic means of expression when you want multiple ways to express yourself. Zines can also be anonymous, so you can be the ultimate you or an alternate you. Things you wouldn’t say in person or even blog about –you can put in a zine and hand out around town or send off in the mail! And a zine can be very personal, like a journal, or it could be a collection of stories, interviews, comics, poems, photos, etc.

Back to literary reasons, I think the best books introduce you to characters whom you wouldn’t be friends with in real life and you begin to empathize with them. Zines do that too – I want people to read zines about topics and they are unfamiliar with by people they don’t know, I want people’s minds to be blown by literary activism!

 

LC: What do you hope the Fest accomplishes?

MP: I hope more people get to know what zines are! That’s our primary goal — to get people to start looking for zines and appreciating them, and many more people making zines.  I’d love to build and support our zine community just like we do our creative community at large. I’m surprised Charleston doesn’t have a space where they are sold or even a zine library. The greatest city in the world (thanks Conde Nast!) deserves zines.

LC: Does the zine trend have staying power?

MP: Absolutely! Zines are ancient, they’re pre-internet and pre-Xerox. I’ve pointed a couple of people in the direction of the wikipedia entry on zines, which has a pretty good background of history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zine cool feminist mags Bust and Bitch (now both successfully in wide print circulation) began as zines and in a lot of ways, radical pamphlets throughout history could be compared to modern zines.

 LC: What makes you so hip, Ms. Pilarski, and how can other chicks be so cool too? 

MP: False! Other chicks should make zines! Actually Alison (Piepmeier)  wrote a book called “Girl Zines: Making Media and Doing Feminism” so she’s the expert on cool chicks. She’s talking at 1 p.m. on Saturday and she’ll be talking about the history of zines, which are “not just for hipsters” as she puts it. She’ll also have zines on hand by real-life young gals in Charleston. At 3 we’ll have a workshop at the fest, led by adorable Crosby Jack but all day long we’ll have markers and glue sticks and paper and magazine clippings available for you to get started on your zine. We’ll also be putting together an official Southeast Zine Fest Zine with contributions from everyone, so come out and get your zine on!

 

 Southeast Zine Fest 2012 Schedule, Saturday October 20:

12pm – Doors open and AutoBahn will be there, so come hungry!

1pm – Alison Piepmeier, author of Girl Zines: Making Media & Doing Feminism will lead a discussion about the history of zines and why they rock. (Hint: they’re not just for hipsters!) And she’ll also have some cool zines by young local gals to show off.

2pm – Live music by Stereofly! Hang out, make some zine doodles.

3pm – Zine-making demo by Crosby Jack.

4pm and on – More live music! You’re free to hang, visit with zine-makers, finish creating your submission to the Southeast Zine Fest Zine or make your own entire zine.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing, Creativity and Soul, Part 2

 

Novelist Josephine Humphreys, left, and writer Debra Moffitt

Nobel prize winner Thomas Mann once said, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

 

I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but I have an idea he is suggesting more than simply stating the obvious—that writing is hard. The meat of Mann’s quote, I believe, is the “for other people” part. The comparison.

 

Writing is indeed a solitary endeavor, but it’s also a curiously communal effort. Not only are writers trying to make connection with their readers, most writers I know are insanely curious about how other writers work. We’re looking over others’ shoulders, making comparisons, which ain’t healthy but it is a job hazard, at least in my experience. We need the support, insight, how-to tips, criticism and encouragement from other writers. It’s like bumming a cigarette from a friend, back when people smoked cigarettes.

 

And it’s why workshops like the Sophia Institutes’ Writing, Creativity and Soul gathering this weekend are so necessary—kind of like going to a revival. It’s the power of numbers, a communal celebration and recognition that writing is difficult but rewarding—even soul-nourishing—creative work, and affirmation that if others can do it, then dang it, I can too.

 

“The program looks like one that will be helpful to writers of all kinds, including those of us who’re speaking,” says keynoter Josephine Humphreys, a Penn Faulkner award winning novelist and author ofNowhere Else on Earth. “I always learn something from the give and take, and I’m reminded that we’re all in this together.”

 

Joining Humphreys for the Friday night session will be novelist Mary Alice Monroe and nonfiction writer Debra Moffitt, author of the award-winning Awake in the World. Saturday’s program includes genre-specific breakout sessions led by poets Susan Meyers and Susan Finch Stevens, Moffitt on writing memoir, me on writing personal essay and blogs, and Nina Bruhns on self-publishing.

 

“For me writing is a spiritual practice and a way to share, connect, and be of service. In the workshop, I’d like for people to become aware of their own motives for writing as well. We’ll explore expression and giving voice to the deeper self that yearns to express and create,” says Moffitt.

 

In that spirit of sharing, I invite and encourage all of you for whom writing is difficult to register and come join the club.

Writing, Creativity and Soul, Part 1

A Macintosh specialty. Not exactly what’s on the menu at the Sophia Institute’s writers retreat, but close.

It may be Restaurant Week, but Charleston’s dining establishments aren’t the only decadent deal in town this weekend.

On Friday and Saturday, the Sophia Institute serves up a low-fat, high-fiber, and definitely heart healthy smorgasbord of local writing talent for its annual Writing, Creativity and Soul workshop. Soul work is at the core of almost all Sophia Institute programs, and it’s also at the core of good writing—in my opinion at least. Gifted writers illuminate the nuances and mysteries of the human spirit through poetry or prose.  The opportunity to hear how they do it, how they take raw ingredients of daily life and simmer them into chapter and verse, is like sampling Jeremiah Bacon’s latest pork-inspired entrée. It’s good stuff.  Chew on it, be fueled for your own writing practice, then go get dessert somewhere.

Sue Monk Kidd, Natalie Goldberg and Josephine Humphreys have been Writing, Creativity and Soul keynoters in the past, and this year Jo Humphreys returns along with best-selling novelist Mary Alice Monroe and writer Debra Moffitt, who will share insight on The Writer’s Life: Creativity, Soul and Survival on Friday night.

Then on Saturday, feast on several courses: Mary Alice leads a morning session on structure and tools for would-be novelists, a midday reflective repast with Jo on “How Writing Transforms the Novelist”, a lunch chat on e-publishing by Nina Bruhns, then afternoon breakout sessions on various genres with yours truly and poets Susan Meyers and Susan Finch Stevens.

Mary Alice Monroe, fitting in some writerly reflection while on turtle watch duty, on IOP.

“I’m always curious about how other writers meet the demands of their career–time management, edits, inspiration, and burn out. It’s such an ever changing, evolving career,” says Mary Alice Monroe, who just finished her most recent manuscript – a novel about dolphins – last week. “We’ll open up with reflections on personal aspects of a writer’s career in an honest discussion on Friday night.  My teaching session on Saturday is strictly about craft.  No fooling around here; I plan to share solid tips that writers can take home and bring to their work.”

“I do hope local writers who need that extra something to help them either begin the project that’s been in their mind, or finish that project that is stalled, will come and avail themselves to this intimate and intense weekend,” Monroe adds.

And I hope to see you as well. You can get full workshop details and register here.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear from award-winning novelist, Jo Humphreys.

It’s HERE! Cuisine & comics launched to higher countertops

Today maybe the day before school starts for most of us (thank God!), but in the rarified echelons of toothy literature and delicious comic books, today is monumental for other reasons. August 21st is the grand debut for the world’s first cookbook comic book, thanks to the unhinged antics of the multi-talented Charleston native Grady Hendrix and his wife, the heralded chef and vegetable whisperer, Amanda Cohen.

In the food-centric Big Apple, Amanda’s restaurant, Dirt Candy, is to vegetables what the Museum of Modern Art is to Andy Warhol. And now her much awaited cookbook, thanks to the deranged genius of her husband, is breaking new artistic ground as well. If you don’t believe me, just watch this:

Order your copy today, and stay tuned to Literary Charleston for local book signing info. I’ll be sure to warn you before Grady and Amanda head South.

From Place to Place

 

Our packed-to-the-gills minivan is finally unloaded, our week of family vacation to the Outer Banks officially over. This weekend’s finale nine-hour drive down the two-lane roads of eastern North Carolina, through has-been places like Maysville, past forgotten railroad stops in the middle of tobacco fields, was a trip down memory lane. A flashback to similar roads, even these same ones, I traveled as a child to and from the North Carolina beaches that were our annual summer pilgrimage, trips fortified by James Taylor on 8-track, Orange Crush and Coppertone. The drive also gave me plenty of time to reflect on the wonders of being away, the memory-making value of vacation, and to think about the difference between a touristy “get-away” and travel.

This distiction was explored in a recent New York Times essay, “Reclaiming Travel,” that caught my attention as my husband and I were Expedia-ing and Travelocitying last minute options to gather our troups before our oldest goes back to college (this week!) and the others start school. We had hopes of venturing to an eye-opening landscape, like Zion National Park — lands yet unseen by our notso globe-trotting family, but “no vacancy” deadends and exorbitant airfare re-routed us to Avon, North Carolina and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, in search of elusive surfing swell.

Except for miles of undisturbed dunes and sea oats and the blissfully cooler, clearer water, it was a long haul to a terrain not terribly different from home. So what was the point? Family time beyond the bounds of our normal routine was enough for me — waiting out thunder storms over rounds of gin rummy; reading on the beach with my teenaged daughters; paddleboarding with my husband; an evening trip to the Dairy Queen. It was R&R — lovely, needed, and thoroughly enjoyed — but not real travel, I admit. In the essay, the authors ask, “So what distinguishes meaningful, fruitful travel from mere tourism? What turns travel into a quest rather than self-serving escapism?” and they offer this answer:

Travel is a search for meaning, not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of others. The humility required for genuine travel is exactly what is missing from its opposite extreme, tourism. Modern tourism does not promise transformation but rather the possibility of leaving home and coming back without any significant change or challenge. Tourists may enjoy the visit only because it is short. The memory of it, the retelling, will always be better. Whereas travel is about the unexpected, about giving oneself over to disorientation, tourism is safe, controlled and predetermined. We take a vacation, not so much to discover a new landscape, but to find respite from our current one, an antidote to routine.

Interesting stuff to ponder, especially as my city, the nation’s Number One Tourist destination, empties itself of the PGA throngs. Like my minivan, Charleston and Kiawah are a little lighter today than yesterday, but what did those who came here take away? Can you come to Charleston (or leave it, in my case) not as a tourist, but as a traveler?
Well, yes, especially if you cross the path of Vikki Matsis while you are here. I first met Vikki when I was coordinating a “Poetry for the Planet” program, sponsored by the Sophia Institute and the Coastal Conservation League, maybe four or five years ago. Vikki took the stage that night at the City Gallery, with a full moon over Charleston Harbor in the background, and outshone that brilliant moon. Her poetry and her delivery were mezmerizing, and I’ve been a fan ever since. In addition to being a writer and performer, Vikki is the founder of Charleston’s acclaimed NotSo Hostel, where she perfects the art of hospitality, both welcoming and inspiring travelers.
And this Wedsnesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Blue Bicycle Books, Vikki will celebrate the publication of her new book, Inside an American Hostel: A Guidebook for Managers & Aspiring Owners. More than a guidebook, Inside is an ode to wanderlust, an invitation to venture outside our comfort zones. She offers here both a how-to and a poetic journey from the soul of a true traveler.
If you want a taste of Vikki’s well-traveled way with words, checkout the first video on this webpage (sorry, couldn’t embed link here), and then trek on over to Blue Bicycle Books on Wednesday evening. Become a traveler in your own town, or wherever it is your destiny is taking you.