Virtual Camping for Writers

Camp-2017-Participant-Facebook-CoverI live in a rural area in North Carolina; networking with writers involves driving to the next two larger towns or even the next county.

So, for the month of July, I joined Camp NaNoWriMo, a virtual writing community that encourages writing 50,000 words in 31 days. The venture is sponsored by the same folks who put on National Novel Writing Month every November. It’s free and anyone can join a virtual cabin at www.campnanowrimo.org. You write where you are, without physically going anywhere.

I’m in a virtual cabin led by a Virginia writer who created a closed Facebook group for easier reporting in each day.

I only wrote 800 words on my first day, but it is 800 more words that I would have without the accountability.

In addition, I’m hosting weekly write-ins at a coffee shop, Grapes & Grounds, 135 S Third Street in Smithfield, NC, every Thursday in July from 4 to 6 pm (July 6, 13, 20 and 27). I met several wonderful local writers doing this last November during the regular NaNoWriMo. One has since moved to South Carolina. The other raises pigs and goats on a Pine Level farm, and is writing and illustrating a children’s book. If you’re local, join me at Grapes & Grounds on Thursdays.

Otherwise, I wish you virtual success at Camp NaNoWriMo!

 

I have a Quran in my home

booksThe recent Muslim travel ban, which has no credible national security rationale for it, reminded me of the ignorance and hate against immigrants and refugees that I encountered when I lived in Manassas, Virginia.

I was working the counter at a local government office one day, when an elderly white man came in. I can’t remember what set him off, but he went on a long-winded rant about radical Islamic terrorism, ending with “Read your Quran!” as the bell-jangling door closed behind him.

He didn’t know it, but I have a Quran in my home.

When my first husband, Martin, was senior warden at Trinity Episcopal Church, he visited Manassas Mosque with our rector, Rev. Stuart Schadt. On that visit, Imam Abu Nahidian gave him a copy of the holy book.

I know Martin read it. After his death in 1998 I found his bookmarks and handwritten notes on legal paper throughout its pages. I cherish it because he studied it. And while I didn’t read it at the time, I believe I see it revealed in the people who live its teachings.

Like Mr. Nahidian. When his mosque grew into a new location at an industrial park near I66, it was spray-painted with graffiti numerous times. In 2014, when it happened again and a glass door was also broken, he welcomed Unity in the Community, an outreach group of which I was a member, to come and talk about ways we could counter these hate crimes with education.

Or like Taalibah Hassan, the chair of Unity, who welcomed us to Dar Al Noor Islamic Community Center on Hoadly Road in Manassas for numerous community events, including the showing of a film about the rise and fall of Islamic culture in (now) Spain. I went there with a fellow writer, Adelaida Lower, a native of Morocco, who was working on The Red Ribbon, a novel set in 1491 Spain. I admit, I was anxious about the unfamiliar customs at the center – walking through a door separate from men, leaving our shoes in a cubby, covering our heads with scarves – until, once inside, we encountered the familiar – a Girl Scout troop selling cookies in the foyer. After the film discussion, we were invited to prayer and a shared meal of kebabs, pastry pies, vegetables, figs. Delicious!

Or like Afzal Nasiri and his wife, Marie Khalili. I met Al through the Prince William Chamber of Commerce. He hired me to help edit an English translation of Marie’s book, Memoirs of Khalilullah Khalili, An Afghan Philosopher Poet: A Conversation with his Daughter.

khaliliI sat typing on a notebook computer with Al – a former editor of the Kabul Times – while he translated from Persian. I was fascinated at how Marie’s father, an eyewitness to eight decades of Afghan history and the reign of four kings, from British rule to Soviet coup, could end up sitting in a lawn chair in New Jersey, talking into a tape recorder as she interviewed him about his life. He was once ambassador and secretary to King Zahir Shah. He authored 70 works of poetry, fiction, histories and Sufi studies. He had even been unjustly thrown into an Afghan prison at one point. In his words:

“It was evening and darkness fell. I picked up a few pieces of coal and wrote a poem on the wall of the prison cell … In the morning … as soon as [the guard’s] eyes fell on the wall he said, ‘Are you trying to have me killed? … Your right to write has been taken away. The investigators will come and I will be in trouble!’ He wiped my poetry from the wall and cleaned it, despite my pleas to leave it there. ‘It’s only a poem,’ I said.”

As a writer, I couldn’t think of anything worse than being confined without the means to write, and censored by a government. I learned Khalili died in exile and was buried in Pakistan, near the tomb of Pashtu poet Rahman Baba. In 2012, Marie’s father’s remains were finally returned to Afghan soil and re-interred in a place of honor near Kabul University.

In 2017, I am living in eastern North Carolina. Now the rants about radical Islamic terrorism are coming from another elderly white man in highest government office. His words, ringing in the House Chamber at the center of the U.S. Capitol, are as sharp as the spray-painted words and broken glass that confronted the children of Manassas Mosque that summer day. He protests he’s not talking about American citizens like Mr. Nahidian or Taalibah or Al or Marie, but his words stir up hate and fear, all the same.

The Rev. Laurie Brock, in a Lenten meditation on her popular blog, Dirty Sexy Ministry (because faith is…), suggests that we consider experiencing other faith traditions as part of our journey toward Easter this year:

The religious literacy of most people in this country is limited. Lent is a wonderful time to experience and learn about other faith traditions. Visit a synagogue or mosque. Attend another Christian denomination. Read the holy writings of other faith traditions. For a great primer on this, explore Stephen Prothero’s Religious Literacy. Further, offer yourself to experience other faith traditions not to feel superior about our own traditions, but to see the truth in their expression of God.”

One such opportunity is an open house hosted by the Islamic Association of Raleigh on Saturday, March 11. The event is 11 am to 4 pm and includes tours of the Mosque, lunch, and a keynote address by Imam Abu Taleb, PhD. The location is 808 Atwater Street in Raleigh.

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If I don’t attend the open house, I have another opportunity – to hear Nida Allam speak. She’s the newly elected Third Vice Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, and has been vocal about politicians who use the rhetoric that attaches Muslim to ISIL, which only feeds into the narrative of us vs. them. Nida will be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Democratic Women of Johnston County/Democratic Men of Johnston County, on Thursday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 218 S. Second St., Smithfield, NC. The group is collecting donations to Harbor, Inc. Use this link www.harborshelter.org/donate to see what items are needed.

And yes, I will read my Quran.

I was inspired to write this after reading Barbara Presnell’s “Muslims who have changed my life” in the Lexington Dispatch.

http://www.the-dispatch.com/entertainment/20170216/barbara-presnell-muslims-who-have-changed-my-life

Bathtub Books

0103171248_resizedThese days, I reduce, reuse and recycle books.

I reduce by avoiding Amazon.com. If I can’t find a book I want at a local independently-owned bookstore, I think twice about the purchase.

I reuse by giving away autographed books by local authors as auction items or door prizes at fundraisers. I borrow and return books in good shape to The Little Free Library in Pine Level, the Selma Public Library, the Harrison Center for Active Aging in Selma, and HealthQuest Fitness Center in Smithfield.

I recycle by sharing books with others in the book bucket at church.

But I have a confession to make. On occasion, I rip up paperback fiction, page by page, as I read and soak in the bathtub.

These are dog-eared paperbacks bought for 25 cents at yard sales.

I rationalize the books are going to get wet anyway. And no one is going to miss the millionth copy of a book by an author with a monopoly on an entire shelf in Books-a-Million in Goldsboro. You know, branded names who dominate endcaps, have promotional tent cards on Joe Muggs tables, and make the New York Times bestseller list before a single new volume is on the shelf. In a three-second glance at cover design, title, name, it’s an impulse buy. The author is cents-on-the-dollar richer, a million times over. The rest feeds the corporate machine of agents, publishers, marketers. The story is just another harpoon dragged along with the whale. The “buy” is all. By ripping up yardsale paperbacks, I’m not destroying a work of art – it’s just paper and color – the equivalent of a “paint and sip” painting.

Or so I rationalize. My latest bathtub book is by a male romance writer who bristles at the label. He insists he’s a fiction writer. No matter. He is creeping up into the Barbara Cartland (1 billion), Danielle Steel (800 million) and Nora Roberts (400 million) sales club with his 105 million books sold. The book is about a widow and her dog. I’m a remarried widow. I have a dog. That’s why I picked it up. But this widow exhibits none of the crazy tornado family rollercoaster behavior I went through 18 years ago. The auto mechanic friend who loves her, the crazy rich guy who tries to woo her – even the loyal dog – are all cardboard stick characters, and the plot is a half-hearted “stranger comes to town.” A typical online review is “wasn’t a huge fan of this one, but I am looking forward to his next novel.” Huh? But I paid a quarter for this one! I know I will forget this paperback as soon as I drain the tub and discard the last page.

I admit my compulsion in ripping up paperback fiction is rooted in jealousy. “I can write better than this,” I think. But then, I haven’t. And which one of us is in a little tub in Pine Level, and which of us owns a mansion built to his specifications lakeside with who knows how many bathrooms with soaking tubs?

Oh well. This prolific male romance writer is cranking out two more books at this moment. He has the opportunity to make many more sales. Women in soaking tubs have made him so. His books pop forward on chain bookstore shelves like store brand tomato sauce cans neatly stacked at Town Market. I put one in my cart this week, and next week, there will be another.

Popular columnist shares humor, honesty over coffee

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Barry Saunders reads from his second book, “…And the Horse You Rode in on, Saunders!” Event organized by Mountaintop Productions Public Relations, Smithfield.

National Novel Writing Month, and our final write-in, ended with a great plot twist on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

 

Writers Gary Ridout, Evelyn Wool, Hope Dougherty and I were finishing our labors at Grapes & Grounds coffee shop in Smithfield, N.C., when in walked award-winning Raleigh News & Observer columnist Barry Saunders!

Saunders was there to discuss his book, …And the Horse You Rode in On, Saunders! The book is a compilation of his columns from 1995-2005.

We joined the gathering crowd and listened as Saunders spun stories and shared the humor and honesty of 23 years of toiling in newsrooms. The biggest surprise? He loves it when people criticize his columns. If he’s not being challenged, he doesn’t think he’s doing his job. He knows he has a tough audience to please, and works hard not to be predictable.

I started reading Saunders when I moved to Pine Level two years ago. His columns were a window on my new environs, where some locals called me “Miss Cindy” or “Suge” while others were taking a raised-fist stand on HB2, voting rights, eminent domain. All his subjects were relevant in my little corner.

The Saunders column that cemented my subscription to the N&O was “Writing Salvaged My Life,” (February 8, 2015). His subject was Shelby Stephenson, who grew up on a farm in Benson and was, at the time, being installed as North Carolina Poet Laureate. After reading an earlier column (Saunders: “If it weren’t for my danged deadline, I’d still gladly be listening to Shelby Stephenson’s stories.”) I drove to Raleigh to witness the installation myself. I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to stand under the state capitol dome, in a chamber filled with educators and literary hall of famers and see a humble writer so honored.

Saunders wrote: “Stephenson said he sometimes reads publicly, often with other noted Tar Heel poets as Jaki Shelton Green. ‘She’s always getting on me for writing about possums,’ he said, laughing at the gentle rebukes. ‘I’ve written two books about possums. We ate so many of them growing up that I try to give back to the possum community.’”

He also quoted Stephenson: “Creativity is in each of us. It’s not something just a few people have.”

Saunders made me realize how accessible Stephenson is. So I asked the laureate to speak to our writers group in Selma, which he did. Stephenson also traveled to my former hometown of Manassas, Virginia, where he participated in a poetry event, “In the Company of Laureates,” at the Hylton Performing Arts Center that involved five state poets laureate and others, which a fellow writer, June Forte, arranged in October 2015.

Tuesday night, Saunders shared with the gathering at Grapes & Grounds about growing up in Rockingham, N.C. and his college days at Morehouse. His first newspaper job at The Atlanta Constitution, was writing obituaries. He said he learned the hard way, that spelling names correctly is vital, “because some people only get their name in the paper twice, when they are born and when they die.” He is still haunted by a hurriedly typed “Rhett” that should have been “Ray.”

Saunders shared that in 23 years of writing columns, he’s had to apologize and “eat crow” about 10 times. He said people respect you when you admit your mistake. And his favorite columns are the ones that produce positive action, like helping an ex-felon find a job or a teenager getting much-needed shoes. His worst column? Well, the title of his book is the tail end of a curse one reader hurled at him after publication of a particularly trouble-stirring one. Saunders joyfully admits his book would make a great holiday gift for friends and enemies alike.

Copies of Saunders’ signed book are available at Grapes & Grounds, located next door to the Howell Theatre at 135 South Third Street in Smithfield, N.C.

If you’d like to meet with other local writers, the Johnston County Writers Group meets the second Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm at the Selma Public Library, 301 N. Pollock Street in Selma. Our next meeting is Dec. 8, 2016.

NaNoWriMo 2016: Your Novel, Your Universe

nanowrimo_2016November is National Novel Writing Month! This is my fourth year participating.

NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel or non-fiction book. Register and begin your book prep at NaNoWriMo.org. On Nov. 1, participants begin working toward the goal of writing at 50,000-word book by Nov. 30.

One part writing boot camp, one part rollicking party, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) celebrates its 18th year of encouraging creativity, education, and the power of the imagination through the largest writing event in the world. This year, NaNoWriMo expects nearly 500,000 people—including K-12 students and educators on their brand new Young Writers Program website —to start a 50,000-word novel in the month of November, guided by this year’s theme: Your Novel, Your Universe.

NaNoWriMo in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area

I registered and joined the participants in the Raleigh-Durham region. As of Oct. 30, 387 participants have registered in NaNoWriMo RDU, so you’re not alone, and there are many ways to network to reach your goal. The kickoff party was Oct. 29 at the American Cancer Society in Raleigh and write-ins are planned in Cary, Durham, Apex, Brier Creek and Smithfield throughout the month.

NaNoWrMo in Johnston County, North Carolina

The Johnston County Writers Group is encouraging local participation in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with four November write-ins at Grapes & Grounds, 135 S Third St, Smithfield. Each write-in is 4pm to 6pm on Thursday, Nov. 3, Thursday, Nov. 10, Tuesday, Nov. 15 and Tuesday, Nov. 29.  Co-hosts are Gary Ridout and myself, Cindy Brookshire.

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Author Hope Dougherty (right), a member of the Johnston County Writers, recently held a book talk at Grapes & Grounds.

Wifi and street parking are available at this cozy coffee shop in historic downtown Smithfield (owners/baristas Patrick and Teresa Yauch sell wine, too). Directions to Grapes & Grounds at www.grapesandgrounds1.com.

The Johnston County Writers Group will still meet at our regular meeting time, 6:30 pm on Nov. 10, the second Thursday of the month, at the Selma Public Library, 301 N. Pollock Street, Selma, NC.

Join us!

 

 

Preparing to Vote

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I love voting. There’s something about walking into a polling place and showing my voter registration card, reciting my name and address and then going into a private space to cast my vote that is life affirming. Yes, I have this freedom. Yes, I have this voice. Yes, as a woman, I have this right. Yes, I am proud to be an American.

Of course, I’m old enough to be nostalgic for the time when I pulled a huge lever to shut the half-curtains of a voting booth. I loved clicking down the little metal levers in secret and then yanking the big lever again to cast my vote and exit. Modern touchscreens just don’t offer the same satisfying tactile and sensory experience. In my current voting precinct, I write on a paper ballot and feed it into a machine. Thankfully, I get an “I voted” sticker. I remember when budget cuts prevented Prince William County, Virginia from providing stickers. I don’t think they’ll ever do that again.

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/politics/I-Voted-Now-Give-Me-My-Sticker-106603794.html

I love voting so much I worked as an election official for several years in Manassas, Virginia. That was fun because I was able to participate on the inside and see what goes on within precincts. The work was tedious and the hours long, but I loved standing outside in the dark and shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye, the polls are now open.” I loved waiting on people and asking even the most familiar faces, like the city mayor, or my next door neighbor of several decades, to state their names and addresses.

I was amazed at how much stuff people carry around in their wallets and purses – stale cough drops, outdated car insurance cards, dried out ink pens, etc., tumbling out while they searched for their IDs or voter registration cards. I always thought it would be a useful community service to offer a table near the exit where people could dump out and toss or shred the accumulation. It would be a timely Election Day piggyback, like offering flu shots at church coffee hours,  or reminding people to change their smoke alarm batteries when they set their clocks an hour forward or back with Daylight Savings Time.

By the time the polls would close, I’d been there so long, my feet ached and I was slightly punchy. That’s when we would pull together as a team to report totals, get our documentation organized, initialed and sealed, pack away the equipment and clean up. Ironically, we’d be the last to know who won because we were closeted away from all the news coverage.

This Election Day is important, not just because 2016 is a Presidential Election. In this General Election, I will be voting for 39 local, state, and federal candidates, from school board members to the US Senate. There are also two items on the referendum. In my little town of less than 2,000 people and one stoplight, these are on the ballot:

  • President and Vice President of the United States
  • US Senate
  • US House of Representatives
  • NC Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General
  • NC Auditor, Treasurer, Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • NC Commissioners of Agriculture, Insurance and Labor
  • NC State Senate and House of Representatives
  • NC Supreme Court Associate Justice, Court of Appeals and District Court Judges
  • County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education
  • Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor
  • Two Referendum items

Getting to know these candidates and issues is taking some work – going to candidate forums, looking up candidate websites and Facebook pages, and listening to long-time residents to get their insights. I attended a church breakfast before the Selma Railroad Days festival and was able to meet several candidates, too. I’m helping our church outreach committee register voters and offer rides to the polls, both for early voting and on Election Day.

So this month, in the last 30 days before the election, I’d like to encourage everyone to learn as much as possible about the candidates and the issues. Volunteer and get involved.

Most of all, vote on November 8, 2016.

 

My Guest Post on Southern Writers’ Suite T is March 4

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Join me Friday, March 4, when I’ll be a guest on Suite T, the blog for Southern Writers’ Magazine.

My topic is “How to start a writers group and help it thrive.” I’ll be happy to respond to your comments on the magazine’s blog, Facebook page or Twitter.

In 2011, I helped found Write by the Rails, the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. In 2015, the chapter sponsored “In the Company of Laureates” at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. A 2016 project is the Windy Knolls Writers Workshop in Nokesville in October.

Since moving to North Carolina in 2014, I’ve become an active member of the Johnston County Writers Group, which meets the second Thursday of the month at 6:30 pm at the Selma Public Library in Selma. Led by facilitator Gary Ridout, the group has hosted such guest speakers as former Piedmont Laureate Carrie Knowles and current North Carolina Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson.

I am also a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.

Please check out my post on Suite T in the morning!

Cindy Brookshire
https://twitter.com/CindyBrookshire
https://www.facebook.com/cindy.brookshire
Pine Level, NC