Breaking (or blowing?) News… & good news for Book Buddies

The Andre Dubus III presentation tonite at Ashley Hall, covered in my last post, has been cancelled due to Superstorm Sandy’s havoc with airlines, etc. We’ll be sure to let you know when it is rescheduled.

BUT, in the meanwhile… you can spend the time you would have spent at this evening’s event in support of an equally satisfying and highly worthy literary cause.

Today through October 31st, Barnes & Nobles will donate 15% of the purchase price of all sales to a terrific literacy outreach program called Charleston Book Buddies. Book Buddies is a highly effective program that pairs community volunteers with struggling second grade students in Title 1 CCSD schools, to work one-on-one for 45 minute segments twice a week to help improve reading skills. Book Buddies’s kids and tutors develop wonderful relationships and kids’ reading and test scores show that it works.

So go to tonight and tomorrow, buy books by Andre Dubus or Andre Dubus III, or get a jump start on your holiday shopping (music, DVDs, games, gifts, etc etc), and feel great about creating the next generation of good readers. And check out the Book Buddies website for more info on the program, or on how you can volunteer to become a Book Buddy.
Shop here through Oct 31st:
Bookfair ID: 10879781  (to support Charleston Book Buddies)

An Early Trick-or-Treat ~ Andre Dubus III

Tomorrow night, on the eve of Halloween, I’ll have the plastic pumpkin bucket of my mind open and ready for sweet offerings. I’ll come wearing the costume of a writer (jeans, v-neck sweater, boots, pen and moleskin notebook) and hope that morsels of wisdom drop in my bucket from that rarest of hyphenated creatures — an award-winning, best-selling, Oprah-endorsed writer, Andre Dubus III. But truthfully, I’ll be paying homage to his father and namesake, the short story writer and essayist Andre Dubus.

I’ve actually not read House of Sand and Fog, nor seen the movie, nor read any other fiction by the handsome and celebrated son, but I have read, and loved, Dubus Senior’s short stories and especially his reflections and meditations on life as a “cripple” as he dubbed himself after being crushed by a car that struck him after he stopped to help two disabled motorists outside of Boston on dark night in 1986. Dubus, with his Ernest Hemingway-rugged good looks, writes with a hard won gravitas and humble wisdom, and my copy of Meditations from a Moveable Chair is dog-eared and pockmarked with marginalia.

From the elder Dubus, in an essay titled “First Books” I’ve underlined this:

“But the writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness and hatred; strive to be a better human being than a writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single work, and then another, and another. This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and reliance to do it are good for the writer’s soul. If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow’s mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed.”

Andre the father was largely absent to his son while young Andre was growing up, according to Dubus III, who writes of their relationship in his memoir Townie. He was a mystery, a vacuum, a hurt. I know what that’s like. And yet father and son shared this DNA of creativity, a writer’s heart, and it shows through for the son. I hope to hear more about that when he speaks tomorrow night as part of Ashley Hall’s Visiting Writers Series.

For now, these nuggets (think of them as Candy Corn for the Writer’s Soul) will hopefully tide you over. Wisdom for writers from Andre Dubus III, as published in Writer’s Digest:

“I really think that if there’s any one enemy to human creativity, especially creative writing, its self-consciousness. And if you have one eye on the mirror to see how you’re doing, you’re not doing it as well as you can. Don’t think about publishing, don’t think about editors, don’t think about marketplace.”

“I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.”

“I still have my truck, and I still have my carpentry tools, and if this writing thing dries up on a publishing level—it’s never gonna dry up for me on an artistic level because I’m never going to quit—but if all the sudden I were out in the cold in the publishing world, them I’m gonna build you a kitchen. I’m gonna do your roof. I would rather do that than sell my soul to the publishing devil. I just won’t do it.”

“Even a day writing badly for me is 10 times better than a day where I don’t write at all.”

Ashley Hall, Tues Oct 30, 7:00 P.M.
Sottile Thompson Recital Hall

Andre Dubus III is the author of five books: The Cage Keeper and Other Stories, Bluesman, and the New York Times bestsellers,House of Sand and Fog, The Garden of Last Days, and his memoir,Townie, a #4 New York Times bestseller and a New York Times “Editors Choice.” It is named on many “Top Non-fiction Books of 2011” lists, including The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Library journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Esquire magazine. His work has been included in The Best American Essays of 1994 and The Best Spiritual Writing of 1999. He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, The National Magazine Award for fiction, The Pushcart Prize, and was a Finalist for the National Book Award, the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and is a 2012 recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

For more information about tomorrow night’s event, contact Dr. Nick Bozanic at 843-720-2855.

For more head to the source at

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: 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.






Over Booked

I finally surrendered a few months ago and hired Will, a domestic god if ever there was one. Will is to clutter what Zeus is to MountOlympus, what Poseidon is to the sea. He looked at my laundry room heap-and-hovel and did NOT turn and run. Instead, he calmed the waters, dug into derelict lint-crusted corners and turned mountains of god-knows-what into small tidy piles. And then he did the same for crammed kitchen cupboards and panting-for-breath, overstuffed pantries. Bless his soul.

Until he said, “Next, we’ve got to do something about your books.”


Books are a slight problem at my house. They’re like cockroaches – they proliferate, slip into dark corners and crevices, make themselves at home in unwelcome spaces like on the kitchen counter, under the bed, by the john. They taunt and stare with that closed-spine look that says, so when, really, are you gonna read me? Cleaning wizard Will wondered why I needed six, no, nine books on my bedside table. I wondered why in the hell it mattered to him.

not exactly the artful way my books look

And then a lovely weekend in October like this one here rolls around, and once again That Big Book Sale salts the “Ouch” of our book problem. The last thing in the world I need is another book I haven’t read, and yet, I’ll walk out of the sale, this year at the Omar Shrine Auditorium, with a loaded bag, feeling morally superior for supporting the Friends of the Library and patting myself on the back for digging out esoteric treasures, like a first edition hard back of William Baldwin’s The Fennel Family Papers, from the vast morass of Danielle Steel, Robert Ludlum and Patricia Cornwell books. I also found a Laurie Colwin novel I’d never heard of before (I thought I had them all!), and a hard cover I bought for my girls (the Hunt sisters) simply because of the title: The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, by Elizabeth Robinson.

If by chance you’re also a page hound, or suffer from a tad of book lust, drop by the Shrine. Happy hunting!

A Sunday Steal

Because it’s a day of rest and reheating left-overs.

Because I still haven’t read the last three New York Times Sunday Magazines and another blue plastic bag taunts at the end of my driveway this morning.

Because sometimes, though you’ve got a misguided, overinflated-enough ego to think you can just borrow another writer’s brilliant idea and twist it some to make it your own and improve on it, you really shouldn’t even try.

Because sometimes copying and pasting is a blogger’s best friend, especially on a damp Sunday morning in the mountains, with fall crispness cuddling you and birds chiming in as a makeshift Sunday choir….

I borrow this and bring it to you, my contribution to this morning’s offering, straight from someone else’s pocket (McSweeney’s) into the offering plate:




Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.


Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to Google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write.”


The blank white page. El Diablo Blanco. El Pollo Loco. Whatever you choose to call it, staring into the abyss in search of an idea can be terrifying. But ask yourself this; was Picasso intimidated by the blank canvas? Was Mozart intimidated by the blank sheet music? Was Edison intimidated by the blank lightbulb? If you’re still blocked up, ask yourself more questions, like; Why did I quit my job at TJ Maxx to write full-time? Can/should I eat this entire box of Apple Jacks? Is The Price is Right on at 10 or 11?


Mark Twain once said, “Show, don’t tell.” This is an incredibly important lesson for writers to remember; never get such a giant head that you feel entitled to throw around obscure phrases like “Show, don’t tell.” Thanks for nothing, Mr. Cryptic.


Finding a really good muse these days isn’t easy, so plan on going through quite a few before landing on a winner. Beware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes. When honing in on a promising new muse, also be on the lookout for other writers attempting to swoop in and muse-block you. Just be patient in your search, because the right muse/human relationship can last a lifetime.


There are two things more difficult than writing. The first is editing, the second is expert level Sudoku where there’s literally two goddamned squares filled in. While editing is a grueling process, if you really work hard at it, in the end you may find that your piece has fewer words than it did before. Which, is great. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw said it best when upon sending a letter to a close friend, he wrote, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” No quote better illustrates the point that writers are very busy.


It’s so easy to hide in your little bubble, typing your little words with your little fingers on your little laptop from the comfort of your tiny chair in your miniature little house. I’m taking this tone to illustrate the importance of developing a thick skin. Remember, the only kind of criticism that doesn’t make you a better writer is dishonest criticism. That, and someone telling you that you have weird shoulders.


It’s no secret that great writers are great readers, and that if you can’t read, your writing will often suffer. Similarly, if you can read but have to move your lips to get through the longer words, you’ll still be a pretty bad writer. Also, if you pronounce “espresso” like “expresso.”


Part of finding your own voice as a writer is finding your own grammar. Don’t spend your career lost in a sea of copycats when you can establish your own set of rules. If everyone’s putting periods at the end of their sentences, put yours in the middle of words. Will it be incredibly difficult to read? Yes it will. Will it set you on the path to becoming a literary pioneer? Tough to say, but you’re kind of out of options at this point.


A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital. The truth is, it’s demons that keep a tortured writer’s spirit alive, not Tootsie Rolls. Sure they’ll give you a tiny burst of energy, but they won’t do squat for your writing. So treat your demons with the respect they deserve, and with enough prescriptions to keep you wearing pants.