Asheville North Carolina’s Montford Festival – 2014

DSC_0195Asheville’s Montford Music and Arts Festival is the largest one day music and arts festival in Western North Carolina. It was held on May 18th this year, the tenth anniversary of the Festival.

DSC_0228I’ve lived in the historic Montford community for just over two years and, although any praise of my new hometown will undoubtedly result in the numbers of tourists expanding like a Southern barbeque muncher’s beltline, we love tourists, many of whom decide to retire somewhere nearby.  So many historic neighborhoods to choose from, so many nearby communities, with a plethora (yeah, I know, writers shouldn’t use words to showcase their vocabularies) of craft and music festivals all summer long.

DSC_0202“Our” festival has grown to encompass two tree lined streets in our historic community.  Most of the homes in Montford were built between 1890 and 1920, and include a variety of architectural influences reflecting the cosmopolitan character of Asheville during the turn of the 20th century: Victorian, Queen Anne and Arts and Crafts styles combined with Neoclassical, Colonial Revival and castle-like motifs.

The Montford Festival is just one of many attractions in Asheville.  F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald called Asheville home for a time.  Thomas Wolfe grew up here and renamed this city Altamont in his book, Look Homeward Angel.  Sidney Porter (O. Henry) lived in Asheville for a few months but found it dull in comparison with New York City.  Well, yeah.  What did he expect?  Asheville is still home for dozens of writers of all genres.  When you visit, don’t miss the famous Malaprop’s Indie bookstore downtown, with an entire alcove of books by local authors.

Then there’s the fictitious “Brantleigh Estate,” in nearby Henderson County where, as luck would have it, my protagonist has found a corpse.  The Body in the Brantleigh Glen is Penny Summers’ second sleuthing adventure.

DSC_0208Over 100 vendors of art, crafts, plants, food and children’s activities were showcased this year on two streets just down Montford Avenue from the Asheville Visitors Center. DSC_0211Two stages, one on each street, were the perfect settings for non-stop entertainment — over 20 bands.  By the way, all the festivities are free fer nuttin’.  Visitors come from literally near and far to stay in one of the city’s hotels or a neighborhood Victorian Bed and Breakfast, all of which are walking distance from the festival and from downtown. We’re proud and happy to live in Asheville’s most intriguing neighborhood.DSC_0244

The Red List

Red Dots = ReadI’m sure there’s a more sophis­ti­cated, librarian-like, way to shelve books, but I’ve devel­oped a sys­tem that works for me. Not that you could visit and find every book prop­erly shelved, but the idea is this: shelve the books alpha­bet­i­cally by author, adding “new” acqui­si­tions (the “to be read” books) alpha­bet­i­cally. When I pull one out to read, if I haven’t just received one that deserves a pri­or­ity in the TBR stack, I read, make notes that sug­gest ways to improve my work, and then send it to the triage unit. If the book deserves keep­ing, it goes back on the shelf with a red dot sticker on its spine. It’s been read! If it isn’t a keeper, it goes in a bag to take to the library to be re-sold for fifty cents, or what­ever donated books are sell­ing for this month. I try not to mix bor­rowed library books with my shelved keepers!

MFA in one week at Wildacres Writer’s Workshop

It was my privilege to attend the Wildacres Writer’s Workshop this July. Intensive workshops in Poetry, Short Fiction, Novels, and Non-fiction each day.

Among the faculty, published authors Ron Rash (think Serena – soon to be a movie – and The Cove), Carrie Brown, Luke Whisnant, and John Gregory Brown led the novel-writing groups and short story groups. All are award-winning writers of poetry, short stories, and novels. Commercial fiction (bought at the airport) was taught by my friend and teacher, Vicki Lane. Her Elizabeth Goodweather novels are all set in Appalachia near Asheville. Ron Rash’s stories are also set nearby. Serena in 1929, and The Cove during World War I.

Luke Whisnant’s Short Story class

For each class, we had a short story assigned by the teacher as well as two classmate-submitted stories. Each was discussed, first by the class and then by the teacher, bringing in teaching points as were applicable. Since each class met once a day for two hours, we were encouraged to sit in on another class. For me it was short story for two hours in the morning and two hours in the other short story class in the afternoon. John Brown’s and Luke Whisnant’s classes in combination provided a virtual Master Class in Short Story writing each day.

John Brown awaiting an answer to his perennial question, “What’s the story about? Not what happened in the story, but what’s it about?”

John Brown’s class debating a story’s structure




In John Brown’s class, my classmates included a published author, a rabbi, and a family doctor. All three were women.

I sat in on Ron Rash’s novel-writing class

Registration for the WWW includes a submission in the genre to be studied. That submission, of course, becomes one of  the critiqued readings in the course. Just being able to say that your story was work-shopped at the Wildacres Writing Workshop carries a smidgeon of panache, at least among writers who’ve been there.  Publication of your story or novel, of course, doesn’t automatically follow, but, needless to say, the comments gleaned during the class when your writing is critiqued gives you many ideas for improving the draft.

 Vicki Lane and two of her students on the Wildacres patio

The Workshop, for me, was primarily a time for the absorption of ideas rather than an opportunity for writing. Cell phones are not reliable and the “pay-phones” were disconnected when we had three days of mist and rain.

Reading in the auditorium


Two evenings were devoted to faculty readings in the auditorium. One of the highlights for me was Vicki Lane’s reading an unpublished short story that features a mountain beast that might or might not actually exist.  Two other evenings were student readings (four-minute limit!).

The week was heady for this writer. Lots of notes to read. Lots of short stories to read – Ron Rash’s “Burning Bright” collection for starters. Then back to work on the murder mystery I’m hoping to workshop at Wildacres next year!

Wildacres Retreat is an hour northeast from Asheville, near the tiny town of Little Switzerland and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Serious natural beauty!

Writer/musicians gathered on the Patio


You Can’t Take It To The Bank

To paraphrase Mr. Lincoln, can you can expect a fiction writer to not tell the truth all of the time, some of the time, or none of the time? Or would you agree to the corollary of the second, that a fiction writer might tell the truth some of the time?

Perhaps, to answer that, one needs to define “truth,” insofar as it applies to collections of words. There is that adage that one should never believe anything heard and only half of what is seen. My protagonist Penelope Summers would agree with the truth of the adage. After all, she’s been a public relations lackey for several years and knows the difference between advertising and reality. And grown tired of what she calls the “public relations tango,” by which she probably means dancing around the truth.

Are poems true? What about memoirs? History books? Murder mysteries? Can we agree that writers, in general, tell the truth as they see it? At least in the context of their collections of words. Some mystery, science fiction, and fantasy writers create entire worlds, cultures, languages, and customs for their characters to inhabit. Others, like yours truly, feel comfortable creating a story in a real place, as in Asheville, North Carolina, adding fictional elements as needed for the purposes of the story. You certainly wouldn’t want me to set a murder mystery in your town and have the victim poisoned in a real restaurant that you visit regularly. The owner of that restaurant might get somewhat upset by my suggestion that the chef therein had a murderous streak, even if the story developed that the poison was actually added to the soup du jour by the victim’s cousin’s half brother-in-law. You can envision the legal entanglements using that restaurant’s real name might involve for an unwary author.

Do you prefer stories about real places? And would you enjoy a story set, for instance, in Annapolis Maryland, which has an antique State House and a real town just across Spa Creek called Eastport, but uses fictional addresses for drug wholesalers and a fictional pizza place where a drug sting goes down? If you visited that restaurant on the day of the sting, you might have seen two pizza boxes leaving the place. One full of cash, the other a bit heavier with a brick of cocaine.