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Community    |    Articles of interest to the community.

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published on 04/05/2006

Chattanooga Festival of Writers Brings Magic to This Writer

By staff writer

Minister, philosopher, and educator, Howard Thurman once wrote, “There is magic all around us. It may be that the person whom you live with every day or with whom you work has, locked deep within, the answer to your own greatest need if you know how to ‘strike the rock aright.’” I’m a writer. Thoughts to put down on paper are in my head, constantly calling out to me. I heard about a workshop through a mutual writer and decided to sign up. I had a previous commitment the night of the keynote speaker, so I signed up for the Saturday workshops and luncheon. And it was pure magic!

How fortunate we are to live in a town with so many opportunities to enjoy cultural arts. The Arts and Education Council (AEC), established in 1952, “Provides unique programs in the arts that celebrate and promote learning, creative expression, and the power of ideas for adults and children.”

Many are familiar with the AEC Southern Writers Conference held in odd- numbered years in Chattanooga. This year the AEC introduced the first Chattanooga Festival of Writers, which will be held in even-numbered years. The Sheraton Read House Hotel was the sight of the event. Beginning Friday, March 31, 2006, participants shared a keynote dinner in the Silver Ballroom, with Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian, a debut novel that according to The New York Times, is the fastest selling debut novel to date. Even though it took Elizabeth ten years to write her first novel, she inspired all who attended the dinner.

The next day, Saturday, April 1st, eight guest speakers led three workshops. Richard Bausch – Writing Good Short Stories; Clyde Edgerton – Writing and the Element of Humor; Robert Morgan – Writing Down the Generations; Marilyn Kallet – The Poet as a Performer; Philip Gerard – Writing Makes a Difference; Elizabeth Kostvoa – Researching the Novel; and two local Chattanoogans David Magee – Getting Published; and Suzette Francis – Finding Your Niche.

This meant we had to choose three of the eight. I picked Clyde Edgerton, Suzette Francis, and David Magee. Having read all of Clyde Edgerton’s books I was thrilled to be in a room filled to capacity and glean from him tips on writing with an element of humor. I remember the first book I read of his was Walking Across Egypt. I was in an airport waiting to board a plane with my husband. I started laughing out loud so hard I couldn’t control the tears and my husband said I was making a spectacle of myself. I didn’t care. That was over ten years ago and I can still feel the joy I felt while reading that book!

My second workshop led by Signal Mountain resident Suzette Francis was wonderful. Suzette’s soft voice and gentle demeanor filled us with the inspiration to find our niche in writing which turned out to be a recurring theme I heard throughout the festival. She said that, “Unless your mind, body, and spirit are inline, you will not be on the right path to finding your niche.” Reading from her first published book Rules for a Pretty Woman, she showed why it is important to be the person you are supposed to be. Participants left feeling inspired to seek out their path and look for ways to be great at what we do as writers.

Chattanooga Times Free Press columnist David Magee led the last class I took. Having published Getting Published: How to Learn and Master the Business of Writing, David encouraged us to take writing courses and find out what our talents are; carefully study by writing what you know not necessarily what we live. He gave as an example of how he came to write his book by first listing all the things he knew about or had experience with as a parent, writer, and businessman. After using a process of elimination he chose his background in business and his love for writing to create the above-mentioned book. One tip he suggested was to break some of the rules when trying to get published by going after an agent and emailing instead of writing letters. But most of all he wanted us to leave the workshop realizing that publishing is a business and once we had accepted that, we would be in a better position to get published.

The only regret I had was that there was not enough time to participate in a workshop with all the speakers. Jefferson Press Publishing hosted a luncheon in the Silver Ballroom. Over five hundred participants gathered in the beautiful room for a buffet lunch. Open seating allowed participants to sit anywhere. I found this a great time to network with other participants. I realized many had come to see the writers and were not writers themselves, but the woman who sat next to me, Vicki Moss, is a resident of Ooltewah, TN. A published author of children’s literature, she has won many awards including 1st Place in Youth Fiction, 2nd Place in Short Story in the Tennessee Mountain Writer’s Contest. She also won 3rd Place in the Chattanooga Library’s Contest in 2004. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Vicki was a delightful person to share my meal with.

Dr. Clif Cleveland, AEC president greeted guests at the luncheon. David Magee, president of Jefferson Press then announced the first annual Jefferson Press Prize to be awarded to an unpublished writer at the end of the year. As a final treat guests were entertained by guitar playing, banjo picking, and bluegrass singing of guest speakers Philip Gerard and Clyde Edgerton. Once that concluded, let the book signings begin. Signal Mountain’s Judy Young owner of Wild Hare Books was on hand all day for participants to purchase books written by the guest speakers. And now was the time to get them signed.

I left feeling the magic all around me. Was it in the workshops, the luncheon, the entertainment, or the people I met? Maybe all of the above! Anyone might help me to “strike the rock aright”…to get out the pen and pad and start writing, now!

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