Category Archives: Writing

Writing Sleepaway Camp with Nicole

I first met Nicole Ayers of Ayers Edits when I was looking for an editor for Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South. Through a series of happy events, she was recommended as a good editor. She was – and is.

This past weekend, Nicole offered a writing retreat/workshop, which she called Sleepaway Camp to distinguish it from the one day or shorter workshops she holds. It was held at a B&B in Waxhaw, NC. I was intrigued. It fit into my schedule and I signed up.

“Come prepared with questions, a project, ideas…”, she said.

Writing retreat

The other two writers were also nonfiction writers in the midst of major writing projects. Marni writes about intuitive healing and Mica deals with children with educational challenges.

Me?? I wanted to see if I could make some headway with my research on Camino pilgrims in the Middle Ages. Could I write a few hundred words about a fictional character walking the Camino de Santiago in the Middle Ages? Could I do it without being paralyzed by extensive research?

Friday afternoon, we gathered in the huge house and got our individual writing corners. I spread out on the dining room table. We all signed up with our one-to-one hour with Nicole. What luxury to be able to bounce ideas off a knowledgeable editor for an hour! I spent some time writing down my questions and ideas.

“Set a goal for the weekend,” Nicole advised. So I wrote;

To write about a Middle Age pilgrim without doing much research and without worrying about how elementary it was or full of holes.

I started my story but had trouble from the beginning. I decided that this pilgrim was going to be a woman in her late thirties to mid-forty. But what time period in the Middle Ages? The tenth century was very different from the fifteenth century.

And where would she live? Where would she start her journey from? These questions bothered me more than her motivation or how she was going to find a group to walk with.

I looked at pictures of female pilgrims on the web. Yes, here we had access to our iPhones and the  Internet at this retreat, not always the best idea. I could see their costume but not their shoes. I’m pretty sure they didn’t wear hiking boots. How much research did I need to do? How much research was I willing to do?

I got the bolt of lightning that you’ve already figured out. I didn’t need to read academic treatises. I could focus on novels set in the Middle Ages. Let’s see how this works. I wonder how long it would have taken me to figure this out if I wasn’t at a retreat, thinking about my writing a hundred per cent of the time.

Nicole led two discussions: Writing Personal Essays and Tips on Writing, Editing, Publishing and Marketing. We shared tips and ideas which I find so motivating since writing is a solitary occupation.

Nicole prepared lovely lunches and dinners and we all seemed to dig in for our own breakfasts. Mica and I took a couple of hours off yesterday afternoon to walk on the Carolina Thread Trail. Otherwise it was writing and discussing writing. As we hit snags, we put questions up on a board. These were our meal time conversations.

Was it worth the time and money? Yes. I feel I have a direction now. No guarantee that the direction will get me to the writing I think I want to do but it’s a direction. And, as an extra bonus, the Waxhaw B&B was close to a historic place I’ve been meaning to visit. Stay tuned.

Flat Iron Writers Room in Asheville

There’s a new writing center in Asheville. Actually, it’s probably the only writing center in an actual building in Asheville. Check out the Flatiron Writers Room in West Asheville. The business is owned by two writers, Maggie Marshall, a former actress and screen writer, now a realtor and writer and Heather Newton, a lawyer and fiction writer. Quite the dynamic duos.

Heather and Maggie

Yesterday, I went to its first major event: a Pop-Up Writing Retreat.

Thirteen writers of all persuasions met in the beautiful space off Haywood Rd.

The writing center consists of several rooms which had obviously been an apartment in its previous life. Some people chose the comfortable couches and soft chairs as their writing space. Others, me included, wanted the dining room table with its straight-back chairs.

Heather Newton, author of Under The Mercy Tree, was the writing coach for the day.

After the usual meet-and-greet with coffee in hand, Heather set us a writing prompt. I think of prompts like stretching before exercising. It allows you to put pen to paper or hands on a keyboard without too much thinking.

Heather asked us to write the ten minutes on “a story about your name”. This was going to be easy for me.

I was named after Danielle Darrieux, a famous French actress that my mother admired… Then I went on to explain how my name turned to Danny.

I’ve only seen Darrieux in one recent movie, 8 Women. Every time this question comes up, I check if Darrieux is still alive. Yep, still breathing at 99 years old.

We shared our writing, then found our way to our writing spot. This was silent time: no talking, no internet, no phone. You were supposed to come prepared to work on your own writing – now write.

Some participants were trying to get some distance from their family and find some quiet time. But most probably had a good set-up. Now why would I need a special place to write when I have a great writing space at home, with all the tea I can drink?

It’s the lack of distractions. For some, it might be food and household chores. For me, it’s the time-wasting attraction of the internet. I do too much research, look up too many facts when I should let the writing flow from my fingers. I hope to bring some of that discipline  to my home writing space.

Lunch was at the restaurant next door where we had plenty of time to share our writing goals. Then back to our corners.

Each one of us had scheduled a 20-minute one-to-one meeting with Heather, our writing coach for the day. Heather had parked herself at a coffee shop a block down, away from the quiet of the writing center.

In St. Jean Pied de Port

This was your time to use her as a sounding board on whatever writing problem you wanted to work out. Character? Point of view? Plot? Outline? I talked to Heather about my very nebulous plans to write about my Camino journeys, both past and future.

We even got a goodies bag, which included a book of short pieces from the Flat Iron Writers of Asheville, entitled Irons in the Fire.

The pop-up writing retreat was a success in my book, even if I don’t write another book – hah, hah, hah. It showed me again (and again) that if I can focus, I can turn out original material. Once that’s done, it’s just editing. I can do that.

Check out their other events and literary calendars – all coming. It’s going to be a fun place for Western North Carolina writers and readers.







Horace Kephart Documentary Premieres

Horace Kephart
Horace Kephart

When I first moved to Western North Carolina almost 16 years ago, I knew I needed to be educated about the area. I went to Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville and asked what I should read as a start.

The clerk suggested two books: Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart and a much darker book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area by Harry M. Caudill. I read them both in short order.

Horace Kephart (1862-1931) was a librarian, writer, and outdoorsman who moved to Western North Carolina in 1904. He’s credited with being an important influence in the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If his name comes up more often than other influential voices, it’s because his books are still read today and his descendants keep his name and his contributions alive.

Libby Kephart Hargrave and Linda Kephart, painter
Libby Kephart Hargrave and Linda Kephart, painter

Libby Kephart Hargrave, Horace’s great-granddaughter, is a tireless force in making sure that Horace Kephart isn’t forgotten.

She created the Horace Kephart Foundation and now has produced a documentary Horace Kephart: His Life and Legacy which premiered today at Western Carolina University.

Lots of park supporters were at the premiere, including local legislators, Great Smoky Mountain Association staff and board members, outdoor folks and classic campers. I looked up the latter but just got references to camper vans. So I assume these are people who camp the old-fashioned way, like Kephart did.

I’m not going to recount Kephart’s many achievements or summarize the documentary. But I was impressed by the personal and loving way that Libby portrayed her great-grandfather. Though he left his wife and six children to find his sanity in the mountains, Libby has always talked about how important Horace’s family was to him. The documentary also spends time on his wife, Laura.

Kephart Millstone
Kephart Millstone

I was also impressed by the national figures in the video including Dayton Duncan and Ken Burnes. producers of the documentary National Park: America’s Best Idea. Libby also interviewed park personnel and other authors.

How can a family go back so many generations?

Libby found photographs and writings from many extended family members. How did all those photographs of Horace Kephart’s parents pop up? Who stashed them for all those years? Did they know one of their children was going to be famous a hundred years later?

If you missed the premiere, you’ll be able to buy the video online when it’s ready for distribution. In the meantime, you can ponder how many generations you can trace back in your family. Me – just one.