The 3 R’s: Reading, wRiting, Running



Spending your Saturday hoofing and huffing it amidst a sweaty mass of 40,000??

Think of it not as sport, but as a creative huddle, a calorie-burning six point two miles of imagining people’s stories, noticing their quirks and details, overhearing their conversations (as you pass them at a blistering pace!) tuning your ear to dialogue. The Bridge Run is a literary fuel fest, so lace-up, listen up, tune in and run hard. Jog your writer’s mind and read the crowd.  Here’s a little Leo, musing on masses of humanity, to inspire you:

I looked more carefully and more widely around me, I studied the lives of the past and contemporary masses of humanity, and I saw that, not two or three, not ent or a hundred, but thousands, and millions had so understood the meaning of life that they were able both to live and to die. All these…were well aquainted with the meaning of life and death, quietly labored, endured privation and suffering, lived and died, and saw in all this, not a vain, but a good thing.

Leo Tolstoy              



Bookshelf Bio #1 ~ meet “Literary” Linda Ketner





Two percentage points.


That’s how close Linda Ketner came to ousting entrenched 1st District Congressman Henry Brown in the 2008 election. In case you didn’t know — she’s a Democrat, and a woman — and those two things alone are pretty radical in conservative Henry Brownsville, so we counted the race as a victory.  Long before she stepped into the political limelight, Linda’s been moving and shaking the Charleston scene as a community activist, volunteer and philanthropist, who’s passionate about affordable housing, equitable education, women’s issues, GLBT issues…basically all the good stuff. She’s served as president of the Coastal Community Foundation, Crisis Ministries, The Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing and Homelessness, and about every other board in town.

As the first subject of what will be our ongoing “Bookshelf Bio” series, we interroblogged Linda about her reading life.

So meet the indomitable Linda Ketner ~ smart gal, avid reader, wise leader, future SC governor and/or President of the United States.

What you’re reading now?  

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (about the migration of Southern African Americans)

Just finished?  

Re-read The Sparrow and Children of God, by Mary Doria Russel … I very seldom re-read but these are intriguing books.

Book that first made you change the way you understood things or challenged your world view?

Not first made me change my world view (because books have guided my world view since I was a child), but did change the way I understood myself and my faith, Stealing Jesus, by Bruce Bawer.

Your vote for a book that should be on required High School reading lists?

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Favorite book and/or literary scene about Charleston?

Charleston, by Alexandra Ripley.  Yes! Only historical romance will do for this!

Your go-to book for a (graduation/birthday/special occasion) gift?

Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy  (if they haven’t read it, which everyone should have!). If a wedding, The Art of Intimacy, by Thomas and Patrick Malone, MDs.  If for graduation, Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss and The Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck. I also give: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese; What is the What, by Dave Eggers; and both Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk. Can you tell I like to give books?


Ideal or favorite reading location?

If cold, “my” chair in the den with a fire in the fireplace; in bed every night of my life; if warm, on a lounge chair in my back yard; and, on an anchored boat in a creek off the Intracoastal Waterway.

Real old-fashioned pages or a NOOK/Kindle/iPad?

Old fashioned pages unless I’m traveling. When traveling, iPad. Also Audio Books when I’m traveling by car.  If I’m going anywhere that takes more than an hour, I am listening to a book!

Section of the library where you’re mostly likely to be found?  Highest overdue bill ever?

Fiction.  No overdue bills! I turn them in on time because I’ve been on the waiting-anxiously-end and don’t want others to do without their literary fix!

I subscribe to:

The Economist. Charleston Magazine and all her sister publications.

Writer you’d most like to take to dinner and where (in Charleston-area)?

Pat Conroy.  We’d go for some steamed oysters at Bowen’s Island.


Thanks Linda!

(And you out there, feel free to send your suggestions for future Bookshelf Bio subjects.  )


Sunday Chores ~ with Poetry

It’s a perfect day in Charleston. A Sunday, with Tarheel blue skies, bright spring sunshine percolating up to 80 degrees and way too much to choose from: Historic Charleston Foundation’s House & Garden Tours, their Antiques Show, the beach, a run or bike ride to prep, last minute, for next week’s Bridge Run and the After the Bridge Run bike ride, and of course, the Piggly Wiggly Shoot-Out —  if you happen to have a young soccer player, as I do.  I get overwhelmed on these spring-fever weekends;  I want to cram it all in — hit all the fun events AND get my chores done AND sit down with the Sunday Times.  It’s impossible, so instead I surrender and take a poetry pause.

Rather than tidying the house, polishing furniture or swooning over mahogany morsels at the Antiques Show, I offer you this from Charleston poet Barbara Hagerty (whose house is probably on the H&G tours!).   A bit of “housework” — Literary Charleston style:

The Perfect Day

Everywhere I turn —
to billboards, t.v. ads, magazines —
philosophers of the Moment
exhort me to Grab life by the horns —
live with Gusto — carpe Diem —

but I want to water my Geraniums
in slow motion –think
about them as Individuals,
talk out loud with my cat –Rumi —
uphold his End of the conversation, too

before vanishing into my library
with a Few books, a Ream of paper —
and build sawhorses on which to Lay
a Flimsy construction — or two —
lathed by the stitchery of dashes —

move wobbly word towers around
or compress them into dainty sandwiches —
the cucumber ind, Without the crusts —
keeping an eye open all the while
on the progress of our local Star

As it cycles across the room
until the violet hour comes
and I must turn on the lamp.
Then, its spotlight pools on my cat and me
and we see with Satisfaction at the verge

some Nouns and Verbs, freshly carpentered,
teetering in a little stack –ready, waiting —
for the Next perfect day,
of moving words around
like the lightest of furniture.

The Perfect Day
by Barbara Hagerty

The Guest House published by Finishing Line Press

Bird by Bird Poop

I hate book signings. Not my own, since I’ve only done a few and they were pretty low key, but the ones when I’m lined up behind other fans, clenching a beloved book, waiting for my turn to grovel with an author I admire. Or adore. Or bow down to. On humble bended knee.

I remember sweaty palms and trembling when I first “met” Wendell Berry at a book signing in Nashville. I felt like a Catholic pilgrim going to meet the Pope — only Berry is the papal antithesis, so scratch that.  Back before Charleston’s venerable Chapter Two bookstore went by the chapter 11 wayside, I once waited in a long line of Josephine Humphreys fans to get a signed copy of Nowhere Else on Earth. I didn’t know her personally then, just gushed a few “oh I love your work” lines and “I’m a writer, too”  wistful, pitiful remarks, and can still hear her gracious, encouraging response: “Oh that’s great. Good for you! I’ve never felt confident about a single sentence I’ve written.”

I’m star-struck by authors I love. And so was swooning and drooling at the thought of interviewing Anne Lamott, which I got to do yesterday. For all of 12 minutes. Still, it was a mountain-top moment for me, and another tedious part of book tour hell for her, as she launches her latest memoir, Some Assembly Required. It didn’t help that my cell phone connection was breaking up and a jackhammer was pulverizing the sidewalk outside her New York hotel.

I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by Lamott.  Bird by Bird is my writer’s Bible, full of well-worn psalms and pithy proverbs. I envy her raw transparency on the page, her hilarious humility.  With Operating Instructions, she opened the floodgates for mother-writers (and ubiquitous Mommy Bloggers), and upped the ante for personal essays, shifting the dynamic toward “personal.”  As a mother who writes personal essays, I paid attention. And as a former Divinity student who takes the life of the Spirit seriously, but not too seriously, I’ve thanked God that She sent Anne as a modern day prophet, disguised as a middle-aged single mom in dreads, to reclaim Christianity from right-wing piety (see Traveling Mercies, Plan B and Grace, Eventually).

But what the hell to ask her in my precious few minutes? How do I drill down to something fresh and provocative (read: how do I charm and impressive her and make her love me as much as I love her?). How can I pull off a Bird by Bird worthy interview without dribbling out bird shit?

I asked an open-ended question then got out of the way, and took feverish notes. She tumbled out wise, witty sentences and dished up delicious Annie-isms. I mumbled “praise the Lord” when she offered me her personal email address for follow up, since our 10 minutes and 22 seconds (after redialing on a land-line, and getting directed to the wrong hotel room) was gone in a jackhammer flash.

You can read more about my chat with Lamott in an upcoming profile for Skirt! and book review in Literary Mama, but till then, I’ll leave you with this:

Anne Lamott’s Four Immutable Laws of the (Creative) Spirit
(in her new book, she talks about the Four Immutable Laws of the Spirit, so I asked for her writerly twist)

1. 1) Show up.

2) Keep your butt on the chair.

3) Just do it.

4) Ask for help from–and offer help to–other writers, whose work you love, who are safe and available to you, and to whom you can be safe and available.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to do #4 with Lamott. Now… to tackle the first 3!

Do tell ~ who are the writers you’d most like to interview? and what would you ask?

Dewees Detox

Sometimes the Muse needs a refresher course — an Outward Bound to sharpen creative survival skills; a high ropes course for writers/artists who need a little endorphin spike, who have gotten so mired in the mundane it’s hard to tap into gut-level fear, trust, exertion, awe. Sometimes we just  need to get the hell outta everyday-Dodge and high tail it to…

… a treehouse.  An island treehouse is even better.  Swiss Family Robinson style — only with a coffee maker, ceiling fans, screened porches, down comforters on cozy beds and nifty Ikea furniture — which is what House 126 on Dewees Island is. A sweet, dreamy, muse-inviting treehouse, on a near-deserted island, only 20 minutes from home.  Heaven.

When we checked in, Judy Fairchild, the wonder woman of all-things-rental on Dewees (and a damn good naturalist to boot), told me the guy who had just checked out was a novelist from North Carolina. He’d holed up here for the last 3 weeks finishing his novel.  Perfect. I could soak up his residual inspiration and work ethic. Absorb the imaginative vibe left in his wake. Even more, I envisioned what it might be like to do the same — escape for three entire solo weeks of endless marsh views, empty beaches, bird song that you can actually hear all day long because there is no traffic noise, no nothing, to drown it out — and write.

Dewees offers a detox from the intoxicating blur and buzz of real life. Instead of looking at the computer screen, I stare out from the screened porch tucked off the kitchen, some 90 feet above ground in this lovely treehouse, right at osprey nest level.  Instead of errands by car, I walk sandy paths. On Dewees I turn it all off — even NPR– and tune in to nature’s frequency. I tap into the Muse’s musings.

This small barrier island in arm’s reach of IOP is an ideal place to read, to write, or just to daydream about one day returning with an almost finished novel and diving in to an uninterrupted stretch of time, space and creative refueling to finish it off. This time I was out there to research an article about Dewees for an upcoming Charleston Magazine story (stay tuned….) but next time, it’ll be for unfettered literary and creative indulgence. If your Muse needs a little jump-start, or if you could use a gentle reminder that life can move at a slower, more graceful pace, check out the Dewees blog. Better yet, make a reservation for a weekend stay, hop the ferry and get out there to see, and write/read, for yourself.

Wacky Plenitude

“You’d think that a lifetime spent in one town would lead eventually to understanding or at least to boredom (if those two things are not the same). That has not happened. I can still be surprised, for instance, by coincidences, by abrupt outcroppings of irony or by the way history bubbles up in one form or another,” writes the wonderfully gifted novelist, Josephine Humphreys, of her native Charleston.

And one of the places that continually surprises, and inspires her, is Read Brothers store. That ancient King Street commissary of fabrics, old toys, used books and who-knows-what. A place packed with “wacky plenitude,” as Humphreys says.

Read Bros. is a perfect microcosm, or metaphor, for literary Charleston. A town stocked with a wacky plenitude of what-nots and wild tales, with “characters” and Confederate reenactors, with romance and beauty and hundreds of years of hopes and heart ache. All of which makes Charleston a literary haven — or at least it does for me.

Welcome to this bloggish ode to all that inspires literary artists and word fiends in Charleston. We’ll go reading and exploring, meet local up-and-coming writers and New York Times best-selling authors. We’ll find the word on the street and poetry in the pluff…no, sorry, ain’t going to dip into cliche on my first post. Got to save something for later…

So stay tuned.