Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's All About the Story

After a weekend in Oxford, I am now looking at the art and craft of writing with entirely new eyes. Last weekend, I attended the Oxford Creative Non-Fiction Workshop in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, located in the Overby Building, on the campus of Ole Miss.

First let me interject that as the daughter of an Alabama alum, I was not raised to be an Ole Miss fan. As a matter of fact, when I was a junior in high school my daddy told me that if I went to Ole Miss, I'd go to hell. I took that to heart, and went, instead, to Mississippi State. I stayed there three years before transferring to the University of Southern Mississippi (which, I might add, kicked Ole Miss's butt in football the last time we played them--in the early 1980's!).

I have not spent much time at all in my life on the campus of Ole Miss. I regret that now, as it is absolutely one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The Overby Building is just across the street from THE GROVE, one of the most iconic spots on campus, due to the elaborate game day celebrations that take place there. The trees on campus were putting on a real show, still full of leaves in all shades of orange, red and gold. And I loved the town of Oxford. The town square was vibrant and full of life with wonderful restaurants, shops and the famous  Square Books.

I rode to Oxford on Thursday with Diane Williams, a famous Mississippi story teller. Needless to say, she kept me entertained with her stories on the two and a half hour drive.

The conference was organized and presented by Neil White, Susan Cushman (author of one of my favorite blogs, Pen and Palette) and Kathy Rhodes (a facebook friend whom I got to meet in person!). My first session Thursday afternoon was with author Neil White, who wrote one of my favorite memoirs, "In The Sanctuary of Outcasts." Afterwards, the conference attendees boarded Oxford's double-decker bus (an ode to Oxford, England!) and headed to the Square Books for the Thacker Mountain Radio Show. (Think "Prairie Home Companion," but with a real Southern flair!) There was music and readings by two of the conference instructors: Lee Gutkin (the godfather of creative non-fiction) and Ian Frazier.

Afterwards, I had the pleasure to go with Diane and her friend, Rebecca, to St. Peter's Episcopal Church for the annual Veterans's Day covered dish supper. It was like a slice of Mayberry. Veterans from WWII and the Korean War gathered in a fellowship hall festooned with red, white and blue bunting and balloons. Everyone sang patriotic songs, most without the aid of the lyrics provided. It made me wonder if we are teaching our children these songs the same way we were once taught them. Afterwards, we enjoyed the most incredible array of foods I've ever seen laid out on a buffet table. Those people know how to throw down in the kitchen! After dinner, there were a few more songs, and introductions of the individual veterans. Judge Lamb then administered the Oath of Service to the group of veterans. It was very touching. I felt honored to be there.

The rest of the weekend was filled with sessions on writing cinematically and, because we were talking about non-fiction, speaking the truth--telling the story as it happened, and learning how to fill in with information pertinent to the story. We truly studied the craft of non-fiction. I loved every moment of it! During the day, I met many of the workshop attendees--many from New York, California, Kentucy and other states. I was amazed that they came to Mississippi for a writing workshop, and asked several of them why. Most cited Faulkner, Welty, Grisham and the gang...I do live in a state that produces great writers! It made me feel fortunate that just a little over two hours up the road from my own home, I was sitting in a literary hotbed!

I got to know a few more of the folks who came to conference a bit better Friday evening at the reception held at Memory House, the home of William Faulkner's brother, John. Built in 1837, it's where John wrote Men Working, Dollar Cotton and My Brother Bill, a tribute to William Faulkner. I met several agents, editors, publicists and folks who are looking for the next big work of creative non-fiction. That was interesting, for sure!

So, now I feel much better equipped to write the book that must be written, but I also feel re-energized and ready to take my article-writing up a notch or two. I don't know if anyone will notice but me, but I know that to capture and keep people's attention, and to make sure they learn and retain what they read, there must be a story. It's all about the story, and everyone's got one to tell.

Blessings to all who read this!


  1. You tell a fine story well! Continue. . .

  2. Great post. Just now getting around to reading it. I bet that was indeed an awesome conference. Can't wait to read what comes next. Keep me posted.