Sep 15, 2014

A Writer's Take on College Football: Marrying into #HokieNation

Five generations of my dad's side of the family lived in South Boston, and although I visited many times over the years, I never claimed residency. Even still, this bloodline means that being a Red Sox fan is as genetically determined as clearly as my Sicilian curls and large earlobes. Although I don't follow baseball, I do occasionally get riled about college football, so it should be no surprise that, by virtue of my recent engagement to a Virginia Tech graduate (amidst a family of fellow VT grads), I am now a Hokie fan. [Side note: When Brad and I were dating, I first met his father and father's girlfriend, as well as his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, against the backdrop of a Hokie football game on the big screen, a bowl of corn chips passed bewteen.] Of course, the Oregonian in me will always love the Ducks, but they're time zones and flights out of reach right now. Meantime, what's the harm going nuts over one of the most exciting teams to watch in the ACC?

To begin my initiation, Brad took me to my first Hokie home game at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, VA this weekend where 63,257 fans gathered to shake their keys (like gobbling), wave their arms in a triangular formation (like turkey tail feathers), and do the Hokie Pokie. When asked, "What's a Hokie," I already know that I'm supposed to say, "I am." A hokie is just a nonsense word as far as I can tell (though a deeper story awaits to be told) and that word plus the team's turkey mascot make for loads of fun fan merchandise and tradition. I watched the Hokie mascot shake his mighty tail feathers on the sidelines and crowd surf atop the VT Cadets (impressive!). Did I mention that Ducks and Turkeys are both large birds that taste good to eat? The transition has been nearly seamless, and I don't even feel like I'm cheating on anyone.

To top off game day, it was also Military Appreciation day, and I enjoyed the special halftime show honoring each branch of the military. If I were a veteran, however, I believe I might have had a hard time relaxing in the bleachers across from the three men in black [pictured above] pulling security. From a distance, their gestures appeared much like the snipers our U.S. ground troops have been battling for 13 years...

It was a rough first quarter against Eastern Carolina University that came back to kill us in the end. Poor passes (or failures to pass) from the VT quarterback (who had been unstoppable just a week prior versus Ohio State), avoidable penalties (such as substitution screw ups), an out-of-bounds kick at kick off, and other plain old mistakes by the offense in particular accumulated throughout the next three quarters to lead to a disappointing 21-28 loss. Still, once I got over the initial vertigo, being in a crowd of that size was exhilarating. In fact, it got me thinking. What would a writer's life be like if each time she wrote a blazing good sentence, she was cheered on by thousands much like this:


I'm going to take my cues from the Hokie fans, since now I'm one of them, and start getting a little wild at the desk. Why not stand up and shout? Why not shake my tail feathers all about? Why not start keeping track of word counts like game scores, chapters completed like touchdowns, revisions sent to an editor like a bowl game? If the metaphor fits...use it!

Sep 11, 2014

Wonderland Trail: Highlights

Here are few snapshots from my 93-mile, 9-day journey around Mt. Rainier with great friends. It wasn't as physically challenging as I thought--we made good time everyday and I could have hiked more. But I did get a horrible case of plantar fasciaitis that made for some epically painful afternoons on rocky tread. Other than that, my crucial hiking body parts held up and I'm ready for more!

Meantime, this week I've settled into a room of my very own (well, a writing room) on Mercy Me Hill (Brad's home in VA). We intend to spend our weeks here, with weekends in the Airstream in NC. Poor Gus the Superdog, who has no clue why I keep coming and going, breaking his heart week after week. Luckily, he has my parents (his true owners) and 5 acres to patrol each day.

More on that transition coming up, for now, enjoy this lengthy survey video of some of the tread and terrain, including some of my favorite still shots. I wasn't quite as inspired when filming or shooting on this trip as I was in Canyonlands two years ago [video], but this will provide a sense for where we went, in what order, and some of the more notable trailside features:

Aug 21, 2014

Hiking the Wonderland Trail: Gearing Up

The Wonderland Trail is one of the most popular, by-lottery-only, National Park Service trails in the United States. Each year, it draws thousands of visitors from around the world...and this year, my friends and I were lucky enough to get our names drawn in the permit lottery. We found out in April that our reservation was granted (albeit a slightly amended itinerary) and we've been training ever since. While a permitted trail often means a "busy" trail (because all camping is in designated wilderness sites only, booked full with 5-7 sites at each location), it also means some once-in-a-lifetime views and experiences that, in my view, are well worth the trade off. While evenings will be a fun, mixed up group of backpackers, days will be peaceful with occasional passersby (and busier areas near junctions). I can hike alone anytime I want. Once a year, I want to go big and in 2014 that means The Wonderland Trail.

To plan our trip, we used this awesome trip planner initially, then read guidebooks and cross-referenced that with our permit and now, finally, have a mile-to-mile sense for what we're headed into. Saturday, 4 of us all fly into PDX from various start-points, crash on a friend's floor that night, and head toward Mt. Rainier early Sunday morning. We hit the trail that afternoon or the next day, and proceed to circumnavigate one of the most active volcanoes on the North American continent. According to the NPS website, "The 93-mile Wonderland Trail encircles the mountain, offering hikers commanding views of Mount Rainier blanketed by 25 icy glaciers. The trail leads through extensive subalpine meadows of wildflowers and lowland old growth forest." All totaled, we'll hike about 100 miles in 9 days, traveling clockwise around the mountain. Videos galore are right here, and here's the big map:

The Wonderland Trail is the thick, black line around the 14,410' Mount Rainier, which is 500,000 years old and classified as an "episodically active" volcano.

One way to understand what 22,000 feet of elevation change over the course of 93 miles looks like, is to study a profile map. Here's one for the Wonderland that makes my heart beat faster. Profile maps can be confusing, because the impluse is to equate the line that moves from left to right across the graph as the ridgeline...but it is not. It is the elevation line. Profile maps are helpful to hikers who like to make comparisons; having completed one day of the trip and seeing how that looks on the profile map, a hiker can gauge future days (and strenuousness) by getting a feel for how they performed and what's to come.

For readers who like to check out the trail in real time, Mt. Rainier is web-cam savvy with more links than I've seen on any trail in years. Check out this link, scroll down, and do the sun dance on my behalf if all the images look grey and wet. I don't mind the rain, but I'll admit I'm hoping for more warm, sunny, dry days than not. So far, the 10-day forecast for our trip looks startingly--almost dreamily--dry. I'll take it! (We're technically only on trail 8/25-9/2 with a little wiggle room at the beginning depending on our ability to persuade the rangers about a permit change...)

After the trek, I'll be back online just in time for a reading on Friday, September 5th at 9:00 a.m. at the 1st Baptist Church in Burnsville, NC as a part of the kick-off to the 2014 Carolina Mountains Literary Festival. I'm also teaching an afternoon memoir writing workshop that will be fun, provocative, and productive. I hope you'll attend! Afterwards, I'll blog about The Wonderland and post my best pics.

Aug 18, 2014

Hiring an Editor to Critique Your Manuscript

It's been an exciting month to formally launch my new Writer at Large Services and I'm happy to report that by using my existing contacts--current students, past students, and a few friends--that my Monthly Critique Services are successfully booked through December. New openings will arise in January. I've likewise been able to schedule several manuscript critiques with writers who have full-length works of memoir and fiction in various stages of revision. This post will be my last "direct pitch" for a while. I pride myself on providing free, compelling content about The Writing Life on this blog, but I'd be a fool if I didn't occasionally use it to formally offer my services!

On book tour last fall, my travels enabled me to meet in person with three Writer at Large students who have found great success! Amy has been accepted into an MFA in Writing program, Pat is gearing up to self-publish her memoir, and Idella has published a few pieces in Idaho magazines, reminiscing about her life growing up there.
It may help to put some real-life smiles to all of this, by which I mean to say that most of the writers I work with are just like you--they care about writing good, clean, unique, literary stories and memoirs. Some will self-publish their work for family and close friends. Others will find agent representation and larger publishing contracts. All will improve their abilities to see the strengths and challenges in their own work, as well as more quickly find a path toward completion of their most coveted creative projects.

If you, members of your writing group, former students, or your colleagues are working on a full-length manuscript of short stories, memoir, or novel, please consider scheduling a manuscript critique with me. Writers who have worked with me have gone on to publish short stories, essays, and books as well as be accepted into MFA in Writing programs and have their work celebrated in video and audio formats.

The manuscript critique info flyer is linked right here...

and the testimonials can be found here.

Thanks for checking out what I do and spreading the word!