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Moira Crone, whose works have appeared in The New Yorker, Oxford American, and Fiction, is the award-winning author of six books, including her newest novel The Ice Garden. Her previous book, The Not Yet, was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award for best science fiction paperback of the year in 2013. In 2009, she received the Robert Penn Warren Award from the Southern Fellowship of Writers for the body of her work. Her website is www.moiracrone.com.

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Moira will lead a fiction workshop titled, "World-Building." World-Building, a term from speculative and science fiction, means creating an imaginary, alternative setting for a story, which can include history, customs, beliefs, ecology—and conditions contrary to what we encounter in “reality.” An author who switched from realism to speculative fiction with distinguished results talks about developing such an invented world—either slightly divergent from our own, or made up from whole cloth—and writing stories within it. She gives exercises to jumpstart the process.

Register now!

 

If you could be a different author, living or dead, who would you be?
In terms of breadth of vision and the stakes in life, Tennessee Williams, or Flannery O’Connor. For language, Truman Capote or Carson McCullers.

Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Riveting, vivid, wise.

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
That the most important thing to develop as a writer is an understanding of the difference between kinds of negativity. There is a negative view of one’s work that is needed—you must be critical and look for all things that are lacking when you revise and edit. But there is a negative view of one’s work that is destructive—what this feels like is, you see so many flaws you don’t see what the worth of the entire enterprise could be. But an artist can’t be nihilistic. She’s making something—however flawed. Being a writer, or anyone who does creative work, means believing in the invisible, the imaginary, and then make it manifest. Great faith and small faith should always be cultivated, even when rejection comes from others, or hard criticism is needed, or you don’t know what to do next. All creative people have a sense of a vacuum, which propels them to go forth and make something to fill it. This sense of absence shouldn’t be a cause for despair—that’s the mistake. It should be energizing, but not taken too seriously.

In 2013, Forbes named Charlotte among its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. What makes Charlotte such a vibrant place to visit and live?
I have never been to Charlotte. So I am looking forward to finding out the answer.

Why do you feel it's important for writers to attend conferences such as the NCWN Fall Conference?
Writers conferences give everyone a sense of both the art of writing and of reading. Writing is a lonely pursuit. And meeting other writers and editors is a way to stay connected. Listening to writers talk about their works is energizing for readers and for everyone involved.

Saturday's "Brilliant at Breakfast" panel discussion is titled, "Words in Civic Life." Does creative writing have a role to play outside the covers of a book?
Novels and stories make worlds. These worlds have an impact upon everyone. They give us a community, and they make us see things about ourselves that, otherwise, we would not see. Reading broadens us, and really, teaches empathy. The teaching of “creative writing,” shows students who otherwise wouldn’t have imagined it, that they can have a voice, a point of view—they have the right to be the “author” or the “authority.” Creative writing classes can lend power and confidence to people, and this is good for everyday discourse in the community—not just in the world of letters. In New Orleans, we have a series of books called The Neighborhood Story Project. Poor young people in a variety of neighborhoods in the city have told their own stories, described their lives from the inside, not as seen by more privileged people who are at a distance. This sort of exploration makes this world a better place. Writing, reading, and the teaching of writing is the very soul of civilized society. In my home in New Orleans I have a salon. Once a month people come and share their art—storytelling, poetry, history, architecture, music, painting—creative life and social life merge. This is, in part, a way for the artists young and old in the city, to bond. This is a civic function, also. It gives artists fellowship.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
I hope that attendees will come away with greater knowledge of approaches to speculative fiction, if they come to my workshop. Also, in general, I hope people will learn more about the practice of writing, and find out things they can share with others.

What does it mean for writers to "Network?" Any tips?
Real networking is the same as having a lot of genuine friends with whom you share a common interest and a common love. Writing is a form of communication, and if you communicate with other writers you are spending time with people who are really serious about saying what they mean. What better people to communicate with? It is a blessing to know writers and others in writing and publishing—this knowledge supports you. A “network,” is the group you are thinking about when you sit down to write—those you know will react, respond, understand, and help you with your writing. And, in turn, you will read and respond and help those who are part of your circle. The writers I know who have “burned out,” and stopped writing, are those who have isolated themselves from the community of writers, or somehow did not see the importance of the social context of their enterprise.

If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
Works of Shakespeare. Works of Jorge Luis Borges; works of Flannery O’Connor.

Do you read literary journals? What are some of your favorites?
Yes, I read literary journals. I read Callaloo. I read The New Orleans Review. I read Image Journal, and Parabola. In the past I have read Hunger Mountain, and Creative Nonfiction. I read the Oxford American.

Can writing be taught?
Many aspects of writing can be taught—technique, how to pace or organize a novel or short story, form and voice, grammar. This cannot be taught: desire to write, ambition to do as well as one can, yearning to do or say something on the page that is really worth saying, and saying well. These things come from the inside of a person and they cannot be taught. And they shouldn’t be. Nobody should become a writer unless she has a strong desire to lead the life. You can teach someone to write good sentences with no errors. You can’t teach them to write unique sentences, or to want to say something unique.

Who has influenced your writing style the most?
I love Grace Paley and Carson McCullers.

Have you ever had writer’s block? What is one thing that helped you overcome it?
Yes, I have had writer’s block. Writer’s block says, nothing is worth saying, or what I have to say will never be good enough—this trips up a person before she even begins. Something else: endless revising of a single piece of writing is an advanced, and severe, form of writer’s block. If you know someone who has been writing the same novel for years and years and years, and not producing anything else—she has writer’s block. This has helped me with writer’s block: Working for a time in another art, such as painting where I am an amateur. Something that frees my brain and helps me drop my internal critic. What is nourishing is recovering the feeling of the naturalness of creative endeavor. Lucinda Williams has a song with the line, “You took my joy, I want it back.” That’s writer’s block. That’s the thing—you need the joy or it’s not worth doing, no matter the other rewards. Once you have your joy back, you can see your writing with fresh eyes.

Someone writes an un-authorized biography about your life. What would the title be?
She Meant It.

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

Kim Wright is the author of The Unexpected Waltz (Gallery Books), Love In Mid Air (Grand Central), and the upcoming Take Me There, which will be published by Gallery Books next spring. She also writes nonfiction, specializing in the areas of food, wine, and travel, and has twice been the recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing. Kim lives in Charlotte.

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Kim will lead a workshop titled "Structure: Four Ways to Build a Book" with Kim Boykin, Erika Marks, and Marybeth Whalen.

Structure: It's hard to talk about and therefore many writers avoid the scary subject, even though a sound structure is essential to the success of any novel. On this panel, four writers will share their own unique ways of building a book, from being a “pantser” (who flies by the seat of her pants) to a “plotter” who won't begin without a detailed outline, to all the possibilities between these two extremes. We'll also discuss the issues of whether each book demands its own structure, the challenge of revision, writing when you aren't sure what happens next, and whether or not the "film formula" really works when it comes to novels. You'll leave with a new set of tools to help you find the best structural approach to your next book.

Register now!

 

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
Make more of an effort to meet other writers. I stayed solitary far too long!

Did you have a teacher or mentor who had a big, positive impact on you?
Fred Leebron, who is now heading up the Queens MFA program.

Who is your literary hero?
Milton. He was blind and he came up with the best tactile descriptions!

If you could live in any literary world for the rest of your life, where would you find yourself?
The here and now. I'm not much for romanticizing the past or glorifying the future.

If you could have written one book that someone else wrote, which book would it be?
Sense and Sensibility.

Many writers are solitary creatures. Coming to an event like Fall Conference can be a little intimidating, navigating the exhibit hall and ballroom events. Any advice for working the room?
Start before you're in the room. The best friendships are begun in halls and elevators.

Who gave the best reading or talk you've ever been to? What made it so good?
I'll never forget a reading Carolyn Forché gave years ago in Wilmington.

Any advice for attendees who sign up for the Open Mic?
Opt to read less than you think you can comfortably cover in the time allotted and read slowly.

The city of Charlotte was founded on two established Native American trading routes. Now, of course, it's the second biggest banking center in the country. Fall Conference will boast an exhibit hall packed with vendors. How do you approach an exhibit hall at a conference such as this? To shop, to chat, or both?
I both shop and chat but I have to take it in small chunks. I find these experiences overwhelming.

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but of course most of us do. What is one—or some—of your favorite book cover(s)?
I love the new Norton cover of A Scarlet Letter.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
We're talking about structure, which can be daunting. If they're stuck on their WIP, I hope they leave with practical ideas for revision.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
Mysteries, especially historical ones. And I love People Magazine!

What makes you cringe when you see it on the page?
Unconscious word repetition.

Caffeine of choice? (English Breakfast, Caramel macchiato, etc.)
Embarrassing so...Diet Coke.

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

Morri Creech is the author of three collections of poetry: Paper Cathedrals (Kent State University Press, 2001), Field Knowledge (Waywiser, 2006), and The Sleep of Reason (Waywiser, 2013), which was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. A recipient of NEA and Ruth Lilly Fellowships, as well as grants from the North Carolina and Louisiana Arts Councils, he is the Writer-in-Residence at Queens University of Charlotte.

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Morri will lead the Master Class in Poetry workshop. Officially titled "Formal Poetry," this class will consider the expressive possibilities of formal poetry, and participants will investigate how meter, rhyme, and fixed forms such as the sonnet and villanelle can help to generate new and exciting work. Morri will distribute examples, and the class will analyze the formal properties of works by established authors before writing their own poems. The goal is to have writers leave the workshop with the beginnings of at least one new poem. Register now!

 

If you could be a different author, living or dead, who would you be?
I’d like to be W. B. Yeats. I love the way he takes everything from his life—his spirituality, politics, friendships, love life, historical milieu—and turns it into poetry.

Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Well-crafted, intelligent, moving.

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
Don’t bully the muse. In other words, try to figure out what the poem wants to say, not what you want it to say.

In 2013, Forbes named Charlotte among its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. What makes Charlotte such a vibrant place to visit and live?
Definitely the diversity of people here. I have friends who are glass artists, concrete artists, poets, computer designers—and who come from all over the place. Charlotte is a great nexus for meeting people with a wide range of interests. (The restaurants are great too.)

Why do you feel it's important for writers to attend conferences such as the NCWN Fall Conference?
Conferences like this give writers new strategies and techniques to work with, help polish their work, and save time on the learning curve, providing instruction on things that might take a writer years to figure out on their own.

Saturday's "Brilliant at Breakfast" panel discussion is titled, "Words in Civic Life." Does creative writing have a role to play outside the covers of a book?
Absolutely. Particularly poetry, which is an aural medium and can be shared through the spoken word—it’s not just the page that counts.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
I hope they will take away specific ideas for how to improve their poems, and new techniques to generate new material—skill in meter and form that perhaps they haven’t considered using before.

What does it mean for writers to "Network?" Any tips?
I don’t have any tips for this; I’m terrible at “networking.” But if you admire a person’s work, don’t be shy about reaching out to them. Several of my literary friendships spring from my e-mailing or writing poets whom I admire and striking up a conversation.

If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
Maybe Gulliver’s Travels. Or the Canterbury Tales.

Do you read literary journals? What are some of your favorites?
I don’t read a lot of journals, but I like Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, The Southwest Review, and Tin House.

Can writing be taught?
It can be shaped. And specific techniques—lineation, stanzaic structure, meter, rhyme, fixed forms, things like that—can definitely be taught.

Who has influenced your writing style the most?
W. B. Yeats and W. H. Auden. In terms of contemporary poets, it would be Derek Mahon, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Richard Wilbur, John Wood, and Anthony Hecht.

Have you ever had writer’s block? What is one thing that helped you overcome it?
I get writer’s block all the time. In fact, I have it now. The only thing for it is to keep pushing against the wall until the wall disappears. William Stafford used to say that when he couldn’t write well, he would “lower his standards.” That’s important: if you’re not willing to write badly, you won’t write well. Turn off the editor in your brain and just put something down. Don’t worry about the quality at first. That’s what revision is for. And sometimes you have to write badly just to clear the throat. The key is to write something.

Someone writes an un-authorized biography about your life. What would the title be?
A Cultivation of Obscurity.

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

 
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