High Country Writers, Boone, NC

Guest Speakers

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Richard Graham, author of “Escape from Andersonville,” on March 13th,  relayed the harrowing, true tale of his great-grandfather’s escape, one of the few successful escapes, from the notorious Confederate prison in Andersonville, Ga. during the Civil War.  Graham edited the memoirs of his great-grandfather, Napoleon Bonaparte Graham, who was born in Polk County, Tenn., in 1846, and died in Knoxville in 1922. His first-person narrative is told in the language of 1916 when the memoirs were written. 

Napoleon Bonaparte Graham first enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862 at age 16 and was captured by the Union Army in 1863 and sent to Camp Morton in Indianapolis. Union Army Capt. J.H. Sands served as guardian for Graham, who was a minor, and consented for the young boy to enlist in the Union Army for three years. 

He served honorably with the 71st Indiana Infantry and was captured by the Confederates in 1864. He was sent to Andersonville Prison from which he eventually escaped. When Graham’s grandfather composed his memoirs, he stated, "The story of my escape from Andersonville Prison and the most perilous journey back to our Union lines, while recalled from memory, has not been embellished nor does it need to be." 

Graham said that 56,000 soldiers died during the Civil War, just a few less than the Vietnam War.  Hunger and disease killed many soldiers living in extremely close quarters.   Medical instruments were not sterilized.  

Graham noted that harder than writing the book was obtaining documentation that his great-grandfather had been a prisoner.   He researched records in the Polk County TN Clerk of Courts records from 1891 after going finding many dead ends in government channels.


Joseph Bathanti – February 14, 2008

by Evelyn Asher


Author Joseph Bathanti, Professor in Appalachian State’s Creative Writing Program held everyone’s attention as he showed the value of using writing prompts.   Reminding HCW that ours is a visual culture he encouraged everyone to weave a narrative of some length.   He analogized writing as being photographic with a pen.


Bathanti referred to chapters as self-contained scenes where the author has the opportunity to individualize what he/she has done.  He gave an example of earning money during a summer break from college proving his muscle carrying a load of bricks in his youth in Pittsburgh.  This task delegated by his uncle to him and other nephews became an autobiographical nugget replayed through memory like film.


He suggested creating a patchwork for the sale of your story by inventing your way out of a situation and weaving another complexity rather than the obvious.  For continuity Bathanti’s introduces his character Tim O’Brien in every short story.


When writing scenes, Bathanti suggested dealing with minutes rather than days.  He said he encourages his students to think of words as ingredients for a recipe – the measurements have to be just right for the palate.   Bathanti noted that specifity is needed to create imagery.  Think of witnessing rather than filling in the blanks.


A writer’s style Bathanti likes to emulate is Nancy Packer.  Though the author of this article does not remember his exact words, finding this reference bespeaks of Packer’s craft:


Over the years we have developed a pretty fair imitation of Packer’s voice, but now, seated in her living room, I am reminded of how pale our version is compared to the original, an Alabama accent solid and steady as an axe cutting into heartwood. 




Rose Senehi's Marketing Presentation
January 24, 2008
by Evelyn Asher
       When Rose Sehini holder of dual degrees in art and journalism shared her early experience of salary negation when she was a business reporter, we knew we were in for a treat.  A self-marketer, Rose has been on a roll since she negotiated an $28,000 salary increase being hired by the developer she went to interview because the fledging company needed a PR director familiar with the press.  

            The recurring theme in Rose’s presentation was plan ahead.  “Wear two hats.  Don’t think of marketing your book as the caboose; have two trains moving on different tracks (writing and marketing). Rose shared, “Leave your sensitivity behind.  Brand your name.  Marketing your book takes a lot of energy.  However, the more you are out there, the more opportunity arises.

            Rose suggested that writers gather tools for marketing.  For instance, an elevator pitch for newspapers or radio stations, something that will grab attention in two sentences.  You never know who is at the other end of the phone and what that person’s immediate need might be.   Have your back cover, small plot line, and major plot line ready in PDF format to respond in real time.   A reviewer might want the whole plot that requires about five pages or a one-page synopsis.  Have your bio ready, key to your marketing plan.

            Rose said she hired the wrong agent.  “I should have hired someone from New York instead of California.”  When her agent told me to write a third book without any response from the six publishers he insisted were the only ones to approach, she decided to self-publish.  Her experience with I-Universe was positive.  She was approached by I-Universe to be part of a project that placed self-published books in the Recent Paperbacks section at a Barnes and Noble (B&N).

            Her prominent sales escalated her to the Best Seller table before her book signing.  Now Rose concentrates on signings at B&Ns in three states.   She has good relations with independent booksellers because she comes prepared with marketing tools including invitations for signings, contacts with book editors, and giveaways.   Rose emphasized, Every author needs a website.”

            She accepts every invitation to speak whether it is to 5 or 150 people.  “Make your own luck”, Rose said.   There is someone in every town that knows the contacts you need to know.   She gave an example of Charleston where she connected with the Poet Laureate who referred her to an editor at Charleston Magazine and the TV station.

            Rose referred to branding yourself as an Olympic Challenge.  She met Barbara Ingalls and Wendy Dingwall at a conference and was soon came to an agreement with them.   Her first printing of 1,000 copies of “Pelican Watch” sold out in six months.

Rose stated, “Identify your market. Who is going to read your book?  How are you going to reach these people?   I know my readers when they walk in the door of the bookstore.  Make eye contact.” 

Book clubs are key to sales of Rose’s books.  “Most members belong to 2-3 book clubs.”  Wendy Dingwall shared that themes such as those like turtle conservation found in Rose’s books boost sales.  “Readers like to learn as they read”, Wendy said.  Rose reminded HCW that books have a short eight-week life in B&N stores.

Rose makes investments in ads in Southern Living for regional appeal.  When asked if she returns to the same B&N she replied, “No.  Those people already know me.  I prefer to move on and meet readers in new markets.”

JOAN MEDLICOTT of Covington Fame

by Mari-Liis Smyth

Christmastime! The High Country Writers had their holiday luncheon on December 13th at The Palate restaurant in Banner Elk, NC. The bestselling author Joan Medlicott was our guest speaker.

Joan Medlicott was born and grew up in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. In 1968 she was divorced, remarried in 1973 and moved to Boca Raton, Florida. Now she and her husband live in Barnardsville, north of Asheville, NC.

She began writing the Ladies of Covington novels at age 64. She lay in the tub, she said, and waited for inspiration. And inspired she was. Medlicott has written eight Covington novels. She identifies with the character Grace in her novels. When Medlicott got diabet4es, Grace got diabetes.

Simon & Schuster is her publisher. Joan Medlicott is a bit put-out with them. The last two books, the publisher changed her titles: The Seasons of Covington became Two Days After the Wedding; Fabulous Ladies of Covington became An Unexpected Family. She has told her agent that one stipulation of the next contract will be that the title stays as is. If Simon and Schuster won’t print it, "I’ll publish it myself."

A Covington Christmas is selling well, especially at this time of the year.

Medlicott advises learn as much as you can and make contacts. There is a big book of agents, with their addresses. Send your query letter to 25 agents at the same time, not one at a time. That would take too long. Send a self-addressed stamped postcard attached to the query letter, giving three choices: 1. Want to see the manuscript. 2. Want to see (number) of pages or chapters. 3. Not interested. At least you’re likely to get a reply.

Medlicott says she can write easily about children. For her, young people in their thirties are difficult to write about.

"If you get published, prepare to work hard." You will have to market your book. Buy the book, Guerilla Marketing for Writers. "Write because you love it, because you really, really want to write." Don’t write for the money.

It is hard to get an agent. The twenty-fifth agent liked Ladies of Covington. St. Martin’s Press wanted to see her in person. So she flew to New York.

Tidbits: Royalties don’t amount to much money and are a long time coming. Her next book will be about the Jews of St. Thomas. She is a Red Hat Lady and has spoken at the conventions.

Joan Medlicott has moxie like the Ladies of Covington.

Pamela Duncan: Acclaimed Author

by Mari-Liis Smyth

The Big Beautiful is the third book written by Pamela Duncan, "acclaimed author of Moon Women and Plant Life."

Pamela Duncan, guest speaker at the November 2007 meeting of High Country Writers, was born in Asheville in 1961 and grew up in western North Carolina. She received a B.A. in journalism from UNC Chapel Hill and an M.A. in English and creative writing from N. C. State.

Pamela Duncan’s "acclaimed debut novel," Moon Women, was about Grandma. Her grandmother told and read stories to her and imparted earthy phrases such as, "Honey, come on. It’s time to shit or get off the pot." At the beginning of The Big Beautiful, Cassandra balks at walking down the aisle, and with these very words, A. J. Urges Cassandra to make up her mind. Cold feet at your own wedding – what a terrific hook to get you to read the book!

Pamela said that journalism was great training for writing. Her writers’ group nagged her and encouraged her to write. For this she is grateful, she needs emotional support. Her favorite emotion is laughter through tears.

Authors she enjoys: Doris Betts, Lee Smith (especially Oral History), Barbara Kingslover, Robert Morgan and Jane Austen. Favorite books: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables.

Pamela Duncan’s agent got her a two-book deal for $250,000, and she wrote full time. When you are under contract, you are expected to write a book a year. "It’s not too hard. It’s a challenge.: Moon Women and Plant Life sold well regionally. They were okay. However, in 2003, Pam had to go back to work at the NC Institute of Public Health where her job is marketing. She felt like a terrible failure.

You need some validation – sales – to continue to be published. Duncan’s books are middle-of-the-list sellers. She is going to start her fourth novel. At this time, she does not want to sign another contract. Pam wants to write what she wants to write. She doesn’t have a writing schedule.

When an author’s name is bigger than the book title, she has been branded. Once you have been branded and want to write something different, choose a pseudonym for the different genre.

Trust your characters and story. Cassandra was a prophetess who was not believed. The big beautiful Cassandra Moon just came and announced herself to Pam. She doesn’t have to lose weight to get the man. Because Pamela likes the beach, Cassandra lives at Salter Path. Write what you know.

In addition to being a good writer, you need perseverance. So, get off the pot and WRITE!

SARAH SHABER:  Structuring a Mystery
by Mari-Liis Smyth

At the October 11 meeting of the High Country Writers, our guest speaker was author Sarah Shaber who wrote the Simon Shaw mysteries.  Her first novel, SIMON SAID, was published by St. Martin's Press.


Do some advance thinking:  Title--pick a cute one; genre--choose one, e.g. literary fiction (mainstream novel).  Literary fiction is considered more prestigious than other genres.  Write something you would want to read yourself.  Make a distinction between story (narrative) and theme (what it means).

Shaber illustrated FREITAG'S PYRAMID for us.  The first third of the book, introduce the characters.  The protagonist moves action along; the antagonist stops or impedes the action.  Set the stage for your story:  time and place.  To weave in history, show what it was like at a certain time.  Next, the firt crisis occurs.  Then, plot advances to the apex of the pyramid, THE SECOND ACT CRISIS, the emotional high point of the book.

DENOUEMENT is Act Three of the dramatic structure.  All the ends tied up.  The theme should be evident by this time. In a mystery have at least four suspects.  The sleuth has to succeed.  Is it a comedy or traged? Happy or sad ending?

Sarah Shaber said she spends about three months doing research for a novel.  SNIPE HUNT is her second book.  SHELL GAME, her latest novel, is set in World War II Washington, D.C.  It is a Simon Shaw mystery.

Books are longer these days, because it is easier to write on the computer.  A hook is to get the attention of jaded editors and agents; readers will give you two or three pages to reel them in.  Leap into your story!  Description should evoke something, not just be padding.

Shaber likes Robert Mortgan's books.  Other favorites are:  McMurtry's LONESOME DOVE; Stephen King's THE STAND.  She likes Gothic.  Mary Higgins Clark writes Modern Gothic.

Shaber writes for two or three hours each day.  She uses different colored pens and sticky notes to self-edit.  Shaber does not outline.  Double-size your manuscript--at SOS Printing or Kinko's--in order to have bigger print to work with.

When Conrad Hilton was asked to say his last words, they were:  Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.  While dying in Paris, Oscar Wilde's last words were:  Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.  My last words today:  With all this good advice from Sarah Shaber, put it to use, WRITE!


BY Mari-Liis Smyth

Katy Munger, author of Casey Jones mystery series, was guest speaker at the September 13 meeting of the High Country Writers.  She did not lecture to us as a professor would, we interacted:  questions, comments, insights, humor,
and wisdom.  We shared a most enjoyable morning.

She was born in Hawaii and now lives in Durham.  Katy spent four years in the Creative Writing Program at UNC Chapel Hill.  In 1989 she founded her consulting business, which allows her time to write.  At the age of thirty, Katy returned to writing fiction, for the first time since college.  In ten years, nine of her books were published.  Publishing companies buy your books because you're different.  Then they want to change you.  If you don't break out--sell well--the publisher won't buy you again.  Great fans spread the word for Katy.  She received $10,000 advances and traveled to conventions, where writers complained about their publishers.  "Why don't they publicize my book?"

"Take control of what you can."  Somebody's got to get lucky, somebody's got to make it.  Why not you?

In the past ten to fifteen years, marketing and selling of books has changed.  Big chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders, one person makes the decision what to buy in one genre.  You can POD (print on demand) and market your own book on the Internet.  There are small regional presses, you don't need a New York publisher.

Ask yourself, "Why do I write?"  If you answer, "To be rich and famous."  You are a fool.  Write for the joy and love of writing.

"Read or you're dead in the water."  You need to know what is being published.

Mass marketing is aimed at the lowest common denominator.  Forty writers out of 2000 are successful writers.  "Thrillers" are big sellers right now, also memoirs.  Chick lit was popular.  Nine marketing people at the publisher decide what will get printed.  Katy Munger's advice, "Write the book you want to write!"

Buddhism precepts can be applied to writing.  1)  Commit to the book you are writing.  You owe it to yourself.  2)  Accept responsibility for yourself.  It drives Katy crazy to not have control of the book after she is finished writing.  Thus, she just refused a $10,000 advance and will self-publish.  3)  Practice patience.  4)  Seek community.

With big or medium size publishers, you need an agent.  Small presses, you can approach directly.An agent will read your contract, but you can also get a lawyer to do that.  If you are contract, you have to write a book a year.  Publishers prefer to choose and match the illustrator to the writer.



BY Mari-Liis Smyth

On August 9 Catawba Publishing Company presented the High Country Writers program about self-publishing services they offer.

Catawba Publishing print runs range from one to one thousand or more, with no minimum order quantity.  So, you can print only as many books as you need.

"My Book" is their program designed to help authors from manuscript to printed book.  Prepare your manuscript, select a service level, choose cover and page style, and send them your manuscript.  Catawba Publishing will format your book and send you a final proof to review.  From submission to delivery takes about three weeks.  You can select a customized "My Book" package.  A custom design consultant, who creates a custom book format, is assigned to you.  You have a hand in creating every aspect of your book.

They offer "Direct-to-Print" for customers who design their own books.  You submit your finished book in .pdf form by e-mail or using "PrintThat" their Internet submission tool.  Catawba Publishing does not accept hard copies of manuscripts.

Catawba Publishing's expertise is in printing.

Our Bill Kaiser used Catawba Publishing for the second printing of his novel "Bloodroot" and is happy with his book and the service he received.

Catawba Publishing is located at 5945 Orr Road, Suite F, Charlotte, NC 28213. Telephone 704-717-8452   Website  www.catawbapublishing.com
You can e-mail sales representative Alan Davis at hd@catawbapublishing.com

Alan Davis and director John Raymond seemed like folks who would help you in any way to navigate the modern technology to get published.

Now that you know where to get your book published, all you have to do is write.

HCW SPEAKER    JULY 12, 2007

by Mari-Liis Smyth

Bill Brooks was High Country Writers guest speaker on July 12.  He spoke about becoming a writer.

Writing is about pursuing a dream, about creating art.  About making something out of nothing.

Since 1992, Bill Brooks has written twenty-one novels.  To write and publish is a way of making a living.  He writes westerns, historical fiction.  The latest novels he has written are "Rides a Stranger" and "A Bullet for Bill:  The Journey of Jim Glass."

Brooks grew up in a house without books.  His mother read romance magazines.   His father did not read.  A man who can read, but does not read, has no advantage over one who cannot read. For me, these were the most memorable words Brooks said.  Makes me think that a man who can write, but does not write, is not a writer.

Bill Brooks encouraged us to write every day and to read every day.  Reading will teach you your craft.  People read to be informed, to share an experience, and to be entertained; write with that in mind.  Write what you are passionate about.  You will learn more from your mistakes than you'll learn at any workshop.

Constructing a novel is overwhelming, but you can contemplate a day's work. 
Write from within.
Look inward.  "If your gift is to write, then--by God--WRITE!

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High Country Writers -- Boone -- NC -- 28607