SWA Presenter Spotlight: David L. Robbins

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference next month.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is historical fiction author David L. Robbins.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

This born-and-raised Virginian is another lawyer-turned-author success story—although, unlike John Grisham or Steve Berry, Robbins only practiced law for one year.  Actually, even less than that.

Robbins. (Photo by Adam Ewing)

According to his Web site, the College of William and Mary alum quit practicing law two weeks before his one-year anniversary of becoming a lawyer.  His father had stipulated that Robbins would have to pay him back for law school if he quit before one year; however, in a final act of negotiation, Robbins got his father to allow for the equivalent of a two-week vacation.  Well done!

Currently, his fast-paced novels include: Souls to Keep (HarperCollins) as well as War of the Rats, The End of the War, Scorched Earth, Last Citadel, Liberation Road, The Betrayal Game, The Assassins Gallery, and Broken Jewel (all Bantam).  His current work-in-progress is called The Devil’s Waters.

In addition to being an accomplished novelist and Latin classical guitar enthusiast, Robbins is the founder of James River Writers, a writing organization based in Richmond, Va.  He also teaches creative writing at the College of William and Mary—his alma mater—and will be this year’s Advanced Fiction instructor at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference.

THE INTERVIEW

Although Robbins and I were unable to coordinate our schedules for an interview, here is an excerpt from an interview he did for James River Writers, which may offer a bit of insight in terms of what Robbins will be highlighting in Advanced Fiction at SWA in June.

JRW:You mentioned at your book release event that although you are adamant about not using back story, you did this anyway. When is it necessary for an established writer to break the rules and what caused you to do it here?


DLR: I’m adamant about pacing. Back story, dream sequences, narration, flashbacks, all of these and more are devices which exist on a plane not concomitant with the story itself. While the reader is ensconced in them, nothing happens to the characters in real time. No jeopardy, no progress, no action. No pace. So I recoil—usually. In Broken Jewel, I used a lengthy recollection—and I believe it is some of the most beautiful prose in the novel, to be honest—to express a father’s checkered history with his son. The entire passage is a bad idea that worked. This demonstrates that there are no rules in art, only default settings. It is necessary simply for a writer to have a working knowledge of the “rules,” so when they are broken, this is done with control and intent. I did it on purpose. That’s my only explanation.

JRW: When writing historical fiction, how do you keep history from controlling the plot so that the protagonist can do his or her job which is to instigate the action rather than react to events?

DLR: Design active protagonists instead of victims. Immature writers often rely on plots where their characters are buffeted by events, villains, heartless nature, or bad mojo. The key is to write a tale from the perspective of main characters who drive the action, not merely survive it. Do this, and you’ll never have the problem of a character being overwhelmed by history. In fact, if you’re clever, you can even invent characters who actually explain some bits of heretofore veiled history. So that’s how it happened! See?

For more information about Robbins, please visit his Web site.

THE PLUG

Join us at the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June in beautiful St. Simons Island, Ga.  For the 4-1-1, please see their registration page as well as my post.  Reserve your spot today!

*To learn about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Darrell Huckaby

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is humor writer Darrell Huckaby.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

This University of Georgia grad and native Georgian not only has six humor books under his belt, but he also writes the syndicated humor column “What the Huck?”

Click here to see some his articles in at the Athens Banner-Herald.

Huckaby.

In addition to speaking all over the South, Huckaby teaches high school history and appears weekly on the radio show “Moby in the Morning.

His books include What the Huck!, Dinner on the Grounds, Grits is Groceries, Southern is as Southern Does, Need Two and Need Four.

Although I was unable to reach Huckaby for an interview, fellow SWA presenter Amy Munnell interviewed the columnist on her 3 Questions . . . and Answers blog back in ’08.

Here is an excerpt from Munnell’s piece:

“If you’re standing behind someone in the check-out line and she’s searching through every pocket, through her entire purse, for three cents—THREE PENNIES—” columnist Darrell Huckaby says, “you can get mad . . . or you can look for what’s funny.”  Huckaby always looks for, and usually finds the funny things in life and often that’s what he writes about in more than a dozen newspapers across the Southeast. He’s a self-syndicated columnist, an author and recently a “spoken word artist” in the vein of Southern humor writers Lewis Grizzard and Jeff Foxworthy.

Click here to read the rest of Munnell’s post.

For more information about Huckaby, his books, or his speaking engagements, please visit his Web site.

THE PLUG

Join us at the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June in beautiful St. Simons Island, Ga.  For the 4-1-1, please see their registration page as well as my post.  Reserve your spot today!

*To learn about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Susan Meyers

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is poet Susan Meyers.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Past president of both the North Carolina Poetry Society and The Poetry Society of South Carolina, Meyers mentors creative writing students at the Charleston County School of the Arts.  Her poetry book, Keep and Give Away (University of South Carolina Press) has earned the SC Poetry Book Prize, the Brockman-Campbell Book Award and the SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) Book Award for Poetry.

In addition to being a writing instructor, the award-winning poet also received the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Poetry Fellowship and served as the 2005 Poet-in-Residence at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston and for County School of the Arts.  She has been published in several literary journals such as The Southern Review, Crazyhorse and Tar River Poetry as well as the Web sites Verse Daily and Poetry Daily.

For more information about her work, please visit her blog.

Meyers

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

SM: I’ve always written, but I began to write poetry seriously about 22 years ago, when I took my first poetry workshop with Paul Rice at Coastal Carolina University. I was hooked.

RS:  What keeps you writing?

SM: At first, it was the pleasure of it—the fascination of creating something. Before long, though, it became a part of my life, and now I feel the genuine need to write.

A number of my favorite activities also egg me on: reading poems I fall in love with, going to poetry readings, observing nature and the world around me.

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

SM: Birding, biking (as well as spin classes at the Y), reading, teaching, going to poetry events and daydreaming—I’ve always been a big daydreamer.

RS:  What draws you to poetry?

SM: Poetry helps me to make meaning of life. I’m drawn to its compression—the engagement with language, rhythm and sound.

RS:  What are you currently working on?

SM: I just finished a brief set of poems based on lines from Sappho. So now I’m back to writing poem by poem; plus, I’m in the process of circulating a new book manuscript.

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

SM: I’m not much of a dabbler—I tend to leap into something with both feet—so I’m pretty immersed in poetry writing. I also do book reviews and enjoy that when I have time. I love to read creative nonfiction, so that would probably be the next genre if I were to tackle another.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

SM: Poetry by Li-Young Lee, T.S. Eliot,  Joshua Poteat, Atsuro Riley, Malena Morling, Lucille Clifton. Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art (edited by Daniel Tobin and Pimone Triplett). Indiana Review, Poetry, Cave Wall and other literary journals.

RS:  Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

SM: When I first started taking poetry seriously, I’d go to the library and check out a set of six audio tapes of James Dickey reading his poems, and I’d play them over and over.  This was back when you could see who had checked out library materials before you.

Week after week, my name was the only one on the library card. The strong rhythms and intensity of Dickey’s early work made a huge impression on me.

Years before I had studied—and greatly admired—the work of the Romantic poets Byron, Shelley and Keats; and Dickey’s work had a similar effect on me. I wanted to write with that same passion.

Do YOU remember the library card catalog?

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

SM: I’ll be teaching four sessions of a poetry workshop on craft. I’m calling it “Which Words, What Order?” The classes will basically turn to diction and syntax as two means of surprise.

My goal is for those of us in the workshop to stretch ourselves by moving beyond the expected, by surprising ourselves—and our readers—with what we say and how we say it.

We’ll work some with tag clouds, and we’ll look at the variety that poets/writers can gain by paying closer attention to syntax.

Those are just two of the activities planned. I’m planning it so that it should be helpful to poets and prose writers alike, and I’ll be sure to include handouts.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.

*To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Author & Lit Agent Katharine Sands

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is author and literary agent Katharine Sands.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Each year, the Southeastern Writers Association conference hosts one agent in residence; this year, Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency will hold that spot.

Sands

As an agent, Sands represents authors in a variety of areas, including: literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction projects dealing with food/lifestyle, self-help, cooking, travel, spirituality, pop culture, film/entertainment, humor and home/design.

In addition to taking on and working with clients, Sands wrote Making the Perfect Pitch: Advice from 45 Top Book Agents (Kalmbach), which compiles pitching advice from several of the industry’s top agents.

At the conference in June, Sands will be teaching a class called “Pitchcraft . . . and Querial Killers: How Not to Get an Agent, Even If You Are a Talented Writer.” As well, she will hear pitches in one-on-one sessions and work with writers in group critique classes during the latter half of the program.

THE INTERVIEW

One of last year’s SWA presenters, editor Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books, posted a great interview with Sands on his Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Here is an excerpt:

GLA: Speaking of meeting writers at conferences, what do you think is the most common mistake writers make when they give a short in-person pitch to an agent?

KS: One of the things I believe people do wrong is to speak to agents as they would a tax professional or lawyer – somebody for hire who is there to listen to their process and backstory and get involved with their case in that way. Agents are listening in for a reason to be interested, first and foremost, and they’re not going to be interested in the writer’s (process), the word count, what is impeding, or why the writer doesn’t want to do extra work.

See the full interview here.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—you only have until April 1 to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

*To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Sheila Hudson

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is freelance writer and short fiction expert Sheila Hudson.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Long-time board member of the Southeastern Writers Association, Sheila Hudson is published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Chocolates for Women series, God Allows U-Turns series, Stories from the Heart series, Taking Education Higher, Stories from the Border, and God’s Vitamin C.

Not only is Hudson a correspondent for Athens Banner-Herald, but she also contributes profiles, features, essays, humorous takes on life, how-to, and travel articles to several print and online publications such as The Christian Standard, Lookout Magazine, Athens Magazine, and Athens Parent.

For more information about Hudson or to see samples of her work, please visit her Web site.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

SH: I was recovering from surgery and writing in my journal when I decided to write about a significant family event.  It was very personal, so it took me some time to write it and submit to a magazine.  I had had a few publications before coming to SWA in 1993.

Hudson

RS:  What keeps you writing?

SH: I think the most significant thing is that I want to share thoughts and experiences with others.  I write primarily nonfiction, so I use my own experiences to hopefully benefit others, such as “how to coupon” and “travel tips.”

I also write for newspapers, women’s magazines, and Christian periodicals.

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

SH: I live 45 minutes from my seven grandsons—the magnificent seven.  Whenever possible, I am with them.

My husband is a certified meeting planner, so I travel with him on business to seek out sites that he is responsible for.  We enjoy traveling for business and/or pleasure.

I knit, crochet, and sew.  We collect movies and enjoy serving on the Southeastern Writers Association board.  I became a member of SWA in 1993 and a board member in 2003.

Hudson, her husband Tim, and the "Magnificent Seven."

RS:  What draws you to writing for anthologies?

SH: The anthologies are popular because of their brevity, which is a strong suit for me.  Also, these essays tend to be inspirational and/or humorous, which is my favorite way to write.

RS:  What are you currently working on?

SH: My writing partner, Amy Munnell, and I are working on a nonfiction book titled 13 Decisions That Will Change Your Life.

Our agent is Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency.  I am also a contributor to Athens Magazine, Christian Standard, and Athens Parent.

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

SH: I have written a few children’s stories and poems, which, sadly, are not published, but I would like to write a cozy mystery.  I have started a few of them and ran out of steam.

Mysteries are my favorite books to read, so I would like to write one.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

SH: Just finished Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Steve Berry’s The Romanov Prophecy.

I like to read adventuresome mysteries and marvel at the research details.

Dan Brown's latest Robert Langdon novel

RS: Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

SH: Amy Munnell, my writing partner, has had a profound impact on my writing. She was my first contact with SWA; we have served on boards together and complement each other’s style.  She is a valued editor, confidant, writing partner, and friend.

Cec Murphey was one of my first writing instructors.  His encouragement kept me going in the early days.

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

SH: Amy and I are teaching four days on Bright Ideas: Tips to Make Your Writing Shine.

Monday is B&E: Beginnings and Endings, Tuesday is Shiny Tools, Wednesday is the Five Rs, Thursday is critique day for the students.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Bud Hearn

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is inspirational writer Bud Hearn.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

This Georgia-born-and-bred athletic enthusiast pursues real estate investments and developments by day . . . and writes by night.  Well, sort of.  He writes whenever he can find a spare minute.

To check out the University of Georgia graduate’s blog, Ask Mr. Irrelevant, where you can see samples of his writing as well as what he calls “flash fiction vignettes of inanity,” click here.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

BH: I lacked five hours of English in having a double major at the University of Georgia. My degree was a Bachelor of Business Administration in Real Estate in 1964. You guessed it . . . 68 in a couple months.  But family, mortgages and other requirements of money confined my writing to contracts and prospectuses in hopes of writing deposit tickets.

When we moved from Atlanta to Sea Island, Ga., in 2004, a friend and I began hosting a “community lunch” for friends, which has grown from a few to hundreds, every Friday (now for over five years!). I would send out the menu every Thursday and began to add my mental musings along with it . . . some call it my mental flush.

A couple magazines picked up on it and asked me to contribute. I write monthly for one and sporadically for the pet magazine (in the voice of my dog). So, every week I have to come up with another idea or subject, all of which have been different.

My son published two books anthologizing some of my work.  I use [them] as … “business card[s],” which [have] been very helpful in getting more real estate business.

RS:  What keeps you writing?

BH: I guess, as long as I do the free lunches, I’ll have to do writing. But truthfully, and beyond that, it is like a “well of water, springing up” that keeps me going.

I have always been obsessive … if you consider such foolishness as running 50 miles at a time obsessive, although I refer to it as a passion, or “an enemy within, attempting to get out.”

[Writing is] fun, and ideas and words flow. I think when it becomes a burden, or a struggle or a chore, I’ll quit and find something else to do that juices me. After all, life consists not in the end result, which is a grave or urn of ashes, but in the “process of living,” and it’s the process that gives me life! I’m sure somebody quoted that somewhere, but I lay claim to it here.

Hearn and my husband have more than running in common: they're both former Bulldogs!

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

BH: Search for time to read more, more, more. But mainly I work on real estate deals . . . creative ways to add value to a lifeless asset in hopes of continuing to write deposit tickets.

I enjoy physical exercise . . . brings out the best in me. Now, mostly the gym and yoga. Running is no longer fun, with a bad hip.

I enjoy playing the piano—reminds me of the bands I had in high school and college.

My life is pretty balanced and disciplined. I’m real comfortable in my own skin, and I must admit, weather permitting, walking the dogs on the beach across from my home is about as nirvanic (if there’s such a word) as it gets!!!

Hearn and his beach pals.

RS:  What draws you to the Inspirational category?

BH: I think it’s a natural temperament. But more than that, natural temperaments must be used or they’re wasted . . . and life is too short to waste any of it!

One can’t sell real estate without being inspirational. And Life gives us only one absolute: the right of choice.

So, one can choose to be negative, or one can choose to be positive. I choose to be inspirational. I think the Latin for this is de datur tertium—“there is no third choice.”

RS:  What are you currently working on?

BH: Struggling with everybody else on real estate deals . . . that’s what I’m working on.  Money needs transcend about everything else.

Insofar as writing is concerned, I just continue the flash fiction pieces and attempt to add creativity to my thoughts and ideas.

Since I’m a little ADD (some say a lot), I get bored with things that drag on and on, so flash fiction suits my temperament well. At least now it does. Besides, at my age, what “future” do I have in writing, or about anything else for that matter?

As my wife reminds me, “You’re not Faulkner.” So I just create and move on to the next thing.

William Faulkner - not Hearn. Although, I can see a slight resemblance . . . 🙂

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

BH: Well, for years when I was in my 30s, I wrote volumes of legal pads of my internal introspection. Their residence was in boxes in the basement, and when we moved, I took a few out and read them.

Not bad, I thought, but of what use were they, now that I was well beyond those years?  So I dumped them, along with the hundreds of “sermons” I wrote in my 40s and 50s (I taught Bible classes for about 25 years).

I’ve always been drawn to poetry, and lately, haiku is interesting to me. It’s short, concise to a fault and easy to write on about any subject one wants.  Fits my ADD temperament.

I tried to lengthen some of my flash fiction into bona fide short stories, but the detail got boring, and I saw no future in it.

I also ran across, a couple years ago, Hemmingway’s take on “a book in six words.” He wrote,  “Baby shoes, for sale, never used.” Wow, I thought.  So, I tried some of that.  I like it.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

BH: I find it hard to read at night. Morning is my best time of day. But I read several books at one time . . . currently, it’s Born to Run by [Christopher] McDougall, [Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-five of North Carolina’s Finest Writers] … edited by Marianne Gingher and the early novels of Cormac McCarthy, which will complete my reading of all 11 novels by him.

RS:  Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

BH: What, name just one author that shaped me? Who can do that, you fool? Where would the starting line be?

But if I must, my beginning was at age 13 when I began to read the Bible. The epistles of the apostle Paul have, and continue to, influence me in a very deep spiritual sense.  They drill down to the core of things for me, and I never tire of reading them.

But in the carnal sense, in the “real world,” as we call it, I really like [Truman] Capote, [Cormac] McCarthy, O. Henry and Ambrose Bierce.

Truman Capote. Photograph by Irving Penn, 1965.

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

BH: I like the idea of “getting inside of the metaphor” concept (i.e., putting ourselves “into” the situation or event, and letting it draw from us our own conclusions, far from editorializations of others). Being present inside of a metaphor or event, arouses all sorts of ideas, passions and possibilities. It all goes with my idea of “Believing is seeing, not seeing is believing.” I always conclude with a discussion on the idea of “Imagine the Possibilities” (think: Lewis Carroll here).

All my classes are interactive, not lecture. Who wants to hear someone else pontificate? They’re like “gesture drawing,” quick sketches of the subject matter. And classes where nothing is wrong—except a blank sheet of paper!

Goals? What other goals are there except one: That of allowing the spirit within find a place to express itself outwardly. That’s my goal—for each participant to be able to transcend fear and worry and let their spirits express [themselves] unhindered.

Get some words down - pronto!

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.