March 2008

Tennessee Mountain Musings

You're sitting with rows of others at the Doubletree Hotel, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  It is the end of March 2008, and the 20th Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference.  The leader of your session gives you a task.  You must write something in five minutes, or less.  The place goes as quiet as a school exam room.  Heads bow. Pens scrawl across paper pads. 

Your mind is blank.  How come everyone else is racing away with ideas?  You scribble a few words, but it's awkward, empty, no better than eighth grade standard.  As
Sholem Asch  said, "Writing comes more easily if you have something to say."  At last, you know what you want to convey, but the right choice of metaphor eludes you. 

Too soon, the session leader clears his throat. 

"Just about a minute left." 

Your hand moves faster, but you are nowhere near finished, and the page is a confusing mess of letters, arrows and crossings out, when he says, "Let's hear from some of you.  Who'd like to read?"

Well, not you for one.  You look around the room.  One or two have raised their hands.  Is that all?  Everyone else seemed to be blooming with enthusiasm minutes earlier.  Why haven't more people offered their work for inspection?

The people who read seemed blessed with talent.  The leader praises them.  He encourages more to read.  A nervous participant stands. 

"I'm not good at writing to order." 

You identify with that, but then she goes on to recite several paragraphs far better than yours.

How do I know about you?  Because, of course, "you" is "me".  I'm sure there are more than a couple of people out there who doubt the veracity of that claim.  Those who know me, who think I can't keep my mouth shut, and they have a point.  But this isn't about saying something.  It's about reading my written words. (I also have an excuse of sorts.  I cannot hand write quickly.  I was always the kid who had to stay in at playtime, because I hadn't finished copying text from the board.  So, I don't get much down on paper.) It's like standing in the wings of a play or a ballet, knowing you are about to put yourself out there and to give people a reason to wonder why you ever thought you could act or dance.  Even when I press the "send" button to email this newsletter, I will have a moment when my stomach does that little flip.  Do I really think I can write something people will want to read?  At least, I will have had time to revise and reflect upon my sentences. 

After all, we are told over and over, to scrutinize our manuscripts before we send them for publication.  James Michener said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."  That's what we all need to be.  Reading a just composed paragraph to a room of writers is close to walking a tightrope, for the first time in your life, while everyone waits to see if you will fall.

Why, then, am I about to urge you to raise your hand in that workshop and read your raw prose or verse? 

First, your work is probably nothing like as bad as you think.  Thanks to a major house decoration project, recently, I found a number of notepads from previous TMW conferences.  I was surprised to see how many of my hurried labors aren't as appalling as I'd thought.  Quite a few could be the basis of a more developed poem or article.  I'll bet the same is true of you too. 

Second, reading aloud is one of the best , and quickest, ways to see what improvements need to be made to your piece.

Third, if people praise you, you will feel encouraged, proud of yourself and ready to take more of the risks the writing life requires.  If, on the other hand, you receive some constructive criticism, you will be hearing advice on how you can become an even better writer.  That's the point of the conference, to give us all a chance to improve our talents.  Writing isn't supposed to be easy.  Thomas Mann said, "
A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

We don't tolerate class bullies at TMW.  No one is going to titter behind you, or snigger at you in the hall.  In fact, most people will enjoy your efforts, and admire your courage.  So, if you are a perfectionist, a little slower to good writing, or just plain shy, give yourself a break this year and read, just once.  I will if you will.

Margaret Pennycook


President's Message:

It's conference time at last!  With less than a month to go before our opening reception on March 27, the TMW Board is hard at work putting the finishing touches on what will be an extra-special event this year: our 20th annual conference.

In one sense it will be our 21st: what could be considered the very first conference was a "pre-conference," held in 1985 when our progenitors, the East Tennessee Writers, celebrated their tenth anniversary.  It took four more years and the laying of a lot of groundwork by TMW co-founders Pat Hope and Hayden Evans for the idea to morph into the Tennessee Mountain Writers' annual conference.  Pat and Hayden recruited the East Tennessee Writers and others to help, and led a conference steering committee that also included Dave McCoy, Nick Kostra, Raven Parris, Jane Wilson, Jo Stafford, and Carla Radcliffe.  The result was the first Tennessee Mountain Writers conference, held April 18-22, 1989. 

The workshop leaders and guest speakers that year included Alex Haley, John Rice Irwin, Wilma Dykeman, Steve Kline, Bob Middlemiss, Marilou Awiakta, Claudia Reilly, Patricia Boatner, Connie Green, Lou Kassem, Bob Neill, Nelle McFather, and Phyllis Tickle.  As Pat Hope says, "Was that a great line-up, or what?!"

Pat says most all the East Tennessee Writers, including Connie Green, Sue Ellen Hudson, Joy Margrave, Jo Stafford, Joan Wallace, and Dorothy Senn, were involved in the conference's early days in one way or another.  And I'm happy to be able to say that Connie, Joy and Dorothy continue to be invaluable assets on the TMW Board, and are still deeply involved in making our conference an outstanding annual event.
I hope you're all making plans to be with us, from the opening reception to the Saturday evening banquet.  (But if you can't spare the entire weekend, we'll still be glad to see you at whichever sessions you can attend.)  It will be a very special time as we recognize many of those who were involved in the conference's origins and welcome an outstanding lineup of presenters.  If you haven't yet sent in your registration, now is the time-it must be postmarked by March 13 to qualify for the reduced rate.  And if you've misplaced your copy, you can find the registration on our web site,

See you at the conference!
n    Carol Grametbauer
n      President TMW
Upcoming Events

Marilyn Kallet will be the guest speaker at the March meeting of the Knoxville Writers' Guild, Thursday, March 6th, 7 pm, at the Laurel Theatre.  She'll be reading from her new book, THE MOVABLE NEST: A MOTHER/DAUGHTER COMPANION, co-edited with Kathryn Stripling Byer, Poet Laureate of North Carolina.  Local contributors will also read: Pamela Schoenewaldt, Linda Parsons Marion, and Jessie Janeshek.  Marilyn says, "The book makes a fitting Mother's Day gift--it's very upbeat and informative, about letting go of our daughters in creative ways, and about 'returns' to home and history."   Refreshments will be served.  The meeting is free and open to the public.  The Laurel Theatre is located on the corner of 16th and Laurel, in Knoxville.

Tennessee Mountain Writers 20th Annual Conference

The conference will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and begins with a reception on Thursday evening, March 27, 2008, at 6:00 PM with a light buffet and olio preview.  On Friday, March 28, 2008, sessions will run 8:30 AM to 9:00 PM and on Saturday, March 29, 2008, from 8:30 to 9:00 PM, which includes the Awards Banquet.  Reduced rate registration ends March 13, 2008.

Terry Kay
is an Award-winning novelist and screenwriter from Athens, Georgia.  He is one of the South's foremost writers.  Kay has received numerous honors, and was named one of the eight best theater critics in America in 1968, by the Sang Jury on Fine Art Criticism.

Peter Jacobi
is professor emeritus and visiting Riley professor at Indiana University's School of Journalism, and former professor and associate dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.  His jounalistic background spreads across the print and broadcast fields. His work has appeared in numerous publications.

Anne Shelby
, is the author of newspaper columns, plays, essays, and children's books, as well as poetry. Her plays, have been widely produced.  She has published five books for children.  Her popular columns have appeared over a number of years in The Lexington Herald-Leader and other Kentucky newspapers.

Maurice Manning
has published three books of poetry.  His poems have been published in numerous journals.  He has held writing fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center, in Provincetown, and the Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers in Scotland.  He teaches at Indiana University, and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Ron Pitkin
is President of Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville, TN.  Ron entered the publishing business with a bang as co-founder of Rutledge Hill Press. Ron then founded Cumberland House, which currently publishes about 32 new fiction and nonfiction titles each year, in a wide range of categories, including biography, humor, self-help, cookbooks, inspirational, thrillers, mysteries, and vampire stories.

Patricia Lee Gauch
is vice president and editor at large of Philomel Books as well as a respected author in her own right. She holds a doctorate in English literature, and has taught children's literature on the college level and reviewed for The New York Times. Patti has edited three Caldecott Medal winning books, and written thirty-nine books for young readers.

Gloria Ballard
enjoyed a 32-year career in journalism as a feature writer and editor at The Tennessean in Nashville, Tennessee where she was Travel Editor from 1998 until 2006. She became a freelance writer, but currently writes travel features, community stories, garden features and a weekly garden column for The Tennessean.  She also writes fiction.

Jimmy Carl Harris
is a retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major with a doctorate from the University of Alabama.  He was an assistant professor at Southeastern Louisiana University.  He has received over forty writing honors. His stories have appeared in numerous journals.  He has published two collections of fiction.  He has taught writing workshops for the several writing conferences.  

Valeria Steele Roberson
is a native Oak Ridger and currently teaches in the Humanities Department at Roane State Community College, in Oak Ridge.  She has written and directed numerous plays.  She became the head writer and later the sole writer of a radio soap opera drama which aired in Nashville, TN, and later in Washington D. C.

Dorothy Senn
is an award-winning journalist whose career has included work as a reporter, feature writer, and editor for newspapers in Oklahoma and Tennessee and as a freelance writer for several other publications. Her newspaper column, The Creative Crowd, has appeared in the Oak Ridger for 31 years. She has taught classes in non-credit courses for the University of Tennessee and the Oak Ridge Schools.

This project is funded in part under an agreement with the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Additional information:
please check our website: www.tmwi.org

The Third Annual Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University will be held June 13-15th, 2008.  Author Lee Smith will make the keynote address.  More information can be found at www.imunet.edu/mhlf.


Recent Events

Sue Richardson Orr, Chair, Special Events Committee, reports
January Jumpstart VIII was held January 11--13, 2008, at the Magnuson Hotel in Sweewater,TN.  There were twenty people in the Poetry Workshop, which Bill Brown led, and ten in Fiction, which J.T. Ellison led.

Bill was the first Poetry leader at Jumpstart I in 2001 and has returned several times.  This was J.T.'s first workshop and we were pleased with her efforts.  We got positive evaluations on both workshops.  There were various opportunities for interaction between attendees and leaders.

There were nine people who had never been to a Jumpstart event before.  We had folks from all over Tennessee, and from Ohio, Virginia and Alabama, and several people from Chattanooga this year.

Jumpstart IX will be held January 9--11, 2009, at the Magnuson.  Fiction leader will be Cecelia Tichi and the Poetry leader will be Marianne Worthington.  Mark your calendars and plan to attend.


Contests & Awards

The Third Annual Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University invites entries to its writing competition.  Categories include poetry, fiction, essay and children's writing.  Entries must be postmarked by May 20th, 2008. More information is at www.imunet.edu/mhlf.

The Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University Announces The Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Appalachian Writing.
Through literature, a region tells stories to its citizens and the world. The Jean Ritchie Fellowship seeks to support, encourage and honor writers from the Southern Appalachians. The fellowship is the first of its kind for the  region's writers, and is committed to Appalachian voices. The fellowship is named in honor of Jean Ritchie. Ritchie is a musician, author of prose and poetry, social activist, teacher, historian and folk music collector. The fellowship strives to support artists who, like Ritchie, create works of beauty and social relevance, while honoring traditional heritage and forging a new path.  Award amount: $1,500


Member News

Melanie Harless of Oak Ridge, TN reports that her piece, "Searching for Christmas Magic," was also included in the Knoxville Writers' Guild 2007 Christmas Anthology.  Sue Richardson Orr's work, "A Prayer" about Christmas at her family homeplace appeared in the same collection.

Wes Sims has had two poems accepted for publication; "Divining Rod" by SLANT, a Journal of Poetry, and "Maybe" by South Carolina Review.

Iris Press is publishing Bill Brown's book of poems, Late Winter Longing, this spring, and is re-issuing Connie Green's book for young people, EMMY, under its Tellico Imprint.

Last year, Donna Doyle won both first and third place in the poetry category of TMW's contest.  Now, she has a book of her poetry published by Finishing Line Press.  Orders can be placed at
www.finishinglinepress.com.  Orders made before March 14, 2008 will be shipped free.

Beverly Conner's latest book Dead Hunt came out this month. It was a Top Pick in the Romantic Times Book Reviews for mystery and suspense. Another of her books, Dead Past, was nominated this month for Best Suspense Novel of 2007 from Romantic Times Book reviews. Other authors nominated in the same category are: Lee Child for Bad Luck & Trouble, Patricia Cornwell for Book of the Dead, Lisa Gardner for Hide, Tami Hoag for The Alibi Man, Rachel Lee for The Jericho Pact, and Karin Slaughter for Beyond Reach.  Good luck, Beverly.

Congratulations to all.  If you have a writing success, send the information to me at mspenners@mac.com.