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_0202Our” 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.