Pastureland

Pastureland

For a writing assignment on Western New York memoir

Dad builds us a tree house — a nice one with with a rope ladder into a tall sugar maple. The sides open. There’s a mattress where we can hang out and read books. We never do any if that, though. The tree house is a few yards into the woods, which are dark haunted by eerie creaking sounds.

The pastures, though, are full of happy discoveries and the best kind of mysteries. Milkweed with its dry pods of silk; gall balls left on tall, brown weeds — temporary homes for metamorphosing insects; fronds of goldenrod and purple asters; puff balls, if we’re lucky. Continue reading

It’s all cosmic theater: Tom Robbins in WNC

It’s all cosmic theater: Tom Robbins in WNC

Story original published at mountainx.com

According to author Tom Robbins, he didn’t hit his stride as a novelist until Jitterbug Perfume. It was his fourth novel, published in 1984; Robbins was 52. Not that there’s a right age to hit one’s stride as writer; nor do writers (unlike many musicians and actors) age out. But, if there was a takeaway from Robbins’ talk at Appalachian State University in Boone last week (just before his Asheville appearance at Malaprop’s on Sept. 13), it’s that he was never much concerned with convention.

“My so-called literary career,” he said to the sold-out crowd at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts. “I prefer to think of it as a careen.” To illustrate that point, Robbins — who was born in Blowing Rock — read a selection of stories from his new memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie. Anecdotes included an attempted bank robbery (he was an elementary school student at the time) and early forays into writing. Continue reading

An interview with musician / composer / producer Eric D. Johnson

An interview with musician / composer / producer Eric D. Johnson

Originally posted at Mountain Xpress.

There have been cinematic albums before, but EDJ, the solo project of Eric D. Johnson, is “a literal byproduct of all the film things I’ve been doing.” Johnson, formerly the front man of Fruit Bats, continues, “it’s informed by film work. Film work is so collaborative and unusual, but instead of making your own music it’s functioning as an interpreter for a director. You’re the mouthpiece for someone else.”

Four years had passed since he’d made the last Fruit Bats record (Johnson announced last year that the group would disband), and in that time he’s scored films like Ceremony, starring Uma Thurman, and the Paul Rudd vehicle, Our Idiot Brother. “Going back to writing songs was a completely different experience this time,” he says. “It’s so much easier than doing movies.” And, while EDJ is informed by “film-y stuff,” Johnson — who returns to Asheville as part of Harvest Records’ Transfigurations II festival — says what’s most important about the 11 song collection is “what isn’t movie-like about it.” Continue reading

When characters come to life

Image from Refinery29.com

Image from Refinery29.com

This spring and summer I rewrote a YA novel that I started 10 years ago. Just going back to an older piece of work was an adventure in embarrassment and wondering what the hell I was thinking. And, to add to my whole I-want-to-hide-under-my-bed-forever feeling, one early reader pointed out all of the typos, stupid phrases and character flaws — including the many ways in which the main character wasn’t engaging.

To that reader I am forever grateful, and should the book ever see print, he will be properly acknowledged. Every writer should be so lucky as to have a reader who cares and takes the time that this guy did. Criticism — especially thoughtful, sensitive, constructive criticism, as I received — is a gift. But sometimes even the squirmy, mean kind of criticism is key to growth.

So my character grew. She got tougher and sassier. She got a point of view and a better wardrobe. And, at the book’s conclusion, I even dared to gaze four years into her future and see who she’d be not as a high school kid but as a college grad about to start her own life. I found that I liked her then. I liked how who she had been set up the groundwork for who she’d become. Continue reading