Saturday, January 31, 2015

Gratitude: The Ease of the Photobook

These are a few of the dozen or so photo books I've done, mostly in hardback.
Today I am grateful for:

Shutterfly. OK, agreed, Shutterfly can be a glitch-ridden pain in the ass, but it is one of those modern miracles of technology (when I was a kid, people used to say the same thing about TV, which was mostly snowy, few channels, awful productions and expensive). It has enabled me to produce family-production of photo books which my kids and brother/sisters simply adore.

I'm in the midst of working on one now to celebrate the eight years of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, which I founded. I did a bunch of work on it this morning, but it wouldn't let me customize pages, so I had to start over and that was annoying, but the book will be lovely. It has photos by Anne Sampson and Liv Kiser, in addition to mine, and it will help me remember our roots as I get older and older and older and ...

In the past I have celebrated 50 years as a journalist, my kids' visit home from Spain last year, various kayaking and hiking excursions, odes to various friends and a compilation of some of my best photos over the past 35 or so years. I love putting these books together and I deeply appreciate Shutterfly for letting me customize the pages. I get the choice of Shutterfly laying them out (and cropping hell out of my photos) or doing it the way I imagine it. I can choose format size (8X8 to 12X12) and hard back, softback, padded, matte and on and on.

So thanks, Shutterfly and all the other book programs available on the 'net at reasonable prices. You're helping me get ride of photos in boxes that nobody ever sees and put them together in books for the coffee table that people seem to want to explore when they visit.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Gratitude: Small (and One Big) Surprises

Today, I am grateful for:

The unexpected.

I love a good surprise and today was filled with them, not the least of which was a wonderfully thoughtful, creative and homemade card I got from a new friend. That was preceded by a significant earning possibility that came from thin air. I'd been working on ways to save enough money to go to Europe later this year to see my son's family and this little deal--if it goes through--would ensure that.

On top of those biggies, I was able to find photos from years past at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, pix I thought were lost. I've been intending to do a photo-book on the conference  and now I can. This is a labor of love for me and I want to preserve it in a compact format and the Shutterfly books are a perfect venue. That, and the fact that I have a coupon that will essentially make the book free. Yay!

Small things, maybe. But life is composed of them.




Thursday, January 29, 2015

Let Me Tell You a Little Story About Writers

Andrea Brunais
The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference has had a tendency over the years to wow students with the "name" authors who teach there, all of them from our region. There is almost always a level of surprise among the students about what they consider the big names involved. And that surprise is not just limited to students.

Andrea Brunais, who published the excellent novel Mercedes Wore Black last year, and I were chatting yesterday in Blacksburg and she said, "Do you know Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell well." I said, yes, they're friends. "Do you get together, ever." Well, sure, I said. "They are such big-time writers and I love to listen to them talk," she said.

She asked if she might be included in one of our lunches. Sure, I said, and noted that if the four of us got together, there would be four fairly successful authors and one Pulitzer Prize finalist. Her.

I love writers.

Book Festival 'Being Run By a Bunch of Clowns'

High-end authors Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell at the RRWC Saturday.
The Virginia Festival of the book in Charlottesville, scheduled March 18-22, is one of the premier book events in the mid-Atlantic states, drawing more than 20,000 people.

It also draws authors, this year 384 by my count (from the website). Many of them will read from their works. It is an easy conference for writers to take part in and does not discriminate against self-published and indy writers, which is a good thing.

The sheer number of participants, however, gives you an idea of how competitive the book world is these days. And, frankly, the festival doesn't come anywhere near representing even most of the good new books published during the past year.

I say that because I know at least two high-end writers from within 25 miles of Roanoke who did not get in this year ... nor last year, when one of them had a New York Times bestseller. They are Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell. I'm wondering if the Festival is not drowning itself in medicore authors because of the high number who are allowed to hawk their books there.

Lazenby, wrote the following on Facebook this morning:

"I find it hard to believe that I have a book as widely reviewed (Editor's Choice by the NYT Book Review in June), a book being translated into seven foreign languages, a book published by Little, Brown that has gone through eight American printings since May (and eight in Australia as well) and the book festival in my own state has no time for me?

"The Virginia Festival of the Book is being run by a bunch of clowns.

"In 2010, my biography of Jerry West from Random House was published in February and and I still made the lineup of the festival in March. When I didn't hear from the festival this year, I sent the message October 6 to their Facebook page.

"Their best excuse, delivered the other day, is that they didn't see my message? What about the outstanding reviews in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune...? They missed those too?

"If you're not going to respond to correspondence on your facebook page, then take the damn thing down.

"They said to try them next year?

"I am deeply disappointed and frankly done with the Virginia Festival of the Book. It's a joke."


The entries from our region this year include Cece Bell, Beth Macy, William Davis, Darcy Steinke (a Roanoke native who doesn't live here any longer), Diane Fanning, Beth Macy, Ran Henry, Neil Sagebiel and Tiffany Trent, most of whom have taken part in the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. That scratches the surface of the writers I'm familiar with in our region, but is a fairly solid representation.

Fact is, we're rich in writers here, as we've been saying all along.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Oz's New Jammies: You Gotta Be Kidding!


Oh, the indignities we foist on little kids! This is my grandboy Oz in his new Christmas jammies. He loves them. We're going to have to immerse Oz in a taste class.

New Va. Tech Calendar a Masterpiece

George Seurat's classic "Sunday on La Grande Jatte" at the Tech duck pond.
My friend Andrea Brunais, a wonderful writer (Mercedes Wore Black) who works at Virginia Tech in the Outreach and International Affairs office, has teamed with a graphics colleague of hers to produce the most interesting calendar of the new year.

Grandma Moses' "Sugaring Off" at the Tech Admin Building.
It's called "Masterpieces Revisited" and, basically, it takes classic paintings and houses them on the Tech campus and in other settings that spell Tech. Andrea teamed with communications manager Rich Mathieson of the Language and Culture Center to PhotoShop VT pictures into the heart of some masterpieces to create the calendar.

The calendar is wonderfully clever and gives a smart view of what used to be a cow college. This is pretty sophisticated stuff. I've shown it to a few of my artsy friends and they adore it.

I have a few here at home if you want one, but they're hard to get and Andrea is nearly out of them. She's giving away what she has left for free.
Jules Breton's "The Reapers" at the Catawba Sustainability Center
Kandinski's "Houses of Munich" turns up as Bishop-Favrao Hall.

Gratitude: Clear and Evolved Thinking

Today I am grateful for my friend Rachael Garrity, who is perhaps the best natural writer I know and a woman of immense intelligence and evolution.

Today, Rachael recommended that I read the book Manic by Terri Chaney, a high-end attorney who had to give up her career to work on a bipolar disorder she has. This is a book Rachael's young granddaughter selected to read for a course at N.C. State and passed along to Rach. And now Rachael passes it to me.

I'm not much of a reader of non-fiction (in book form, anyway) and rarely read
self-help, but this one is extraordinarily inviting, especially for a recovering drunk like me (20 years sober and moving along nicely, thank you very much). Here is a sample of what Ms. Chaney writes (and I find it charming, wise and profound):

True beauty is not the absence of ugliness, but the acceptance of it.

My greatest victories have always been surrenders.

The greatest challenge of being mentally ill is always. . .to maintain some sense of dignity.

I belonged again to everyone except myself.

When God wants to punish us, he grants us our sins.

If you nurture it long enough, a lie can become a life.

Telling the truth is a dance like any other, with steps and rhythm and etiquette.

(Terri Cheney photo by Suzanne Allison)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

NS Move: Difficult News To Swallow

It is truly sad that Norfolk Southern, on whose shoulders Roanoke was built in the late 19th century, is moving 500 of its remaining 1,700 Star City jobs out of town and closing its signature building--a significant form in the city's skyline.

Norfolk Southern--and Norfolk & Western before it--have been the very definition of Roanoke and now it becomes simply another large company with an interest here.

The company's downsizing will hurt the Roanoke Valley in many ways, beginning, of course with the affected employees, but spreading to the immediate City Market area where restaurants and other small businesses depend on those workers for considerable business. Roanoke's civic organizations will lose some of their leaders, Little League will lose coaches, many of the spouses who move or lose jobs will have entire families affected.

Downtown has another large, attractive, empty building to try to fill, though it was already more than half empty before the announcement.

Roanoke has undergone big shock waves from business departures and closings over the years, but Norfolk Southern keeps doing it. The remaining activities here--mostly having to do with building cars--seem to be pretty safe for a while, but, then, we thought these 500 jobs were fairly safe.

This news is only starting, but I don't think the shock will be any worse than it is now.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Nice Way to Relieve the Conference Stress

My new pal Amigo and me having a chat. The subject was literature.
Found a new way to go up the back side of the ridge overlooking Carvins Cove today, thanks to my pal Marilyn Moriarty, who teaches English at Hollins University. I'm not going to tell you where we started because Marilyn asked me not to, but it was surprising that you could get there from here.

Same hike though, except that we ran into some horses along the way and I had the opportunity to chat with them.

After stressing my butt off at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference for the past three days--actually four, if you count the day before when I was sure nobody would show up--the hike was a great relief. Ahhhhh.

Here's Marilyn on top of the ridge.

Progress Being Made on Roanoke Parade Rules

Political statement from a past St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Downtown Roanoke Inc.'s new parade committee, which is looking at who takes part in its parades and what the entries' statements are, met for the first time last week and already we have some additional guidelines that should help avoid the flap that existed at Christmas.

I had something of a meltdown when the Sons of Confederate Veterans--flying Confederate battle flags, which many consider racist and whose relevance to a Christmast parade has never been explained to me--stopped in front of a young African American girl and me during the parade (we were chattering away about photography) and  she wondered, "Why do they have to do that?" That broke my heart and really pissed me off.

The committee is the result of the debate that followed.

What we've come up with immediately--the St. Patrick's Day entry deadline is close and we needed an interim plan--has two key lines in it:

  • The parade unit must relate to a St. Patrick’s Day Theme.
  • The Parade Committee reserves the right to accept or deny any application for entry.
That pretty well covers parade entries that could cause a big problem. It doesn't specifically ban anybody group and it asks that all groups comply with the parade's theme. I think the Sons of Confederate Veterans could easily have set up a Christmas camp theme that would have been appropriate for the Christmas parade and it could easily have replaced the controversial battle flag with the flag of the Confederacy, which has much less of a stigma attached.

The committee is also serious about limiting the size of the parade (100 entries), the number of participants for each entry (motorcycle clubs and car clubs, for example) and the time it takes to complete the parade's passing. Parades will begin a mile further down Jefferson Street in the future so that there will be a great deal less clogging and slowdown.

I think we're heading for some good solutions. You'll be kept informed.

RRWC Revisited: Faces of the Writers

Keith Ferrell, who had a recent NYTimes bestseller
This is one of my favorite features annually when I'm trying to wrap up the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. It's called Faces of the Writers and it is just that, closeups--sometimes VERY closeup--of those attending the RRWC. If you ever wondered what a writer looks like, this will give you a clue. Here goes.
Author Andrea Brunais
Author Betsy Ashton
Journalist Carol Alexander
Editor/publisher Anne Adams
Musician/writer Greg Trafidlo
Writer Leah Weiss
Author Judy Ayyildiz
Author Neil Sagabiel
14-year-old author Kyoko Leaman
Author Paul Sorrentino
Writing student Heather Divers
Author Roland Lazenby
Author Michael Abraham
Playwright Todd Ristau
Author Diane Fanning
Author Saundra Kelly
Student/sports writer Brittany Keup
Columnist/author Margo Oxendine
Laura Leighty Wade, passion test facilitator, writer.

A Celebration at Tech for One of Dad's Classmates

Just wanted to note that Virginia Tech is celebrating the 1965 founding of the Pamplin College of Business, its 50th anniversary. Normally, I wouldn't pay much attention to events like these, but Robert Pamplin, who endowed the college, was a 1933 classmate at Tech of my dad's.

Dad's was a class that produced some pretty bright and accomplished people, including Red English, who later founded English Construction in Lynchburg, one of the largest construction companies in the state. Dad and English were football teammates.

Pamplin and his son, Robert Jr., have both been known for their philanthropy. The senior Pamplin died in 2009. My dad died in 1960.

According to Virginia Tech, "In 1969, the building housing the college was named for Robert B. Pamplin, a 1933 business graduate who later became chairman and chief executive officer of Georgia-Pacific Corporation. The college itself was renamed in 1986 in recognition of a $20 million gift to the college from Pamplin and his son, Robert B. Pamplin Jr., who also attended Virginia Tech and is president of the R. B. Pamplin Corporation."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Major Changes Ahead for Writers Conference

Networking between classes is one of the main features of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.
Sarah Beth Jones, all dressed up.
The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference dropped the curtain Saturday at about 6:45 and from all that I heard, it was a rousing success. If was a little short of that in my playbook because it was the first conference since the opener that didn't sell out, though the quality was simply extraordinary.

I made the determination Friday, when hearing the preliminary final numbers for the RRWC, that we had to make some changes, do some refining, slim down, speed up and make this thing a racehorse instead of a milk cow.

Lindsey Narmour talks.
Next year, we will eliminate the Friday evening program and throw all our eggs into the Saturday basket. That means no big party to kick off (and no big expense for that party), no introduction of teachers, a shorter welcome to Hollins and a lot less of me ... which I am sure will be met with applause. We will open with an hour to an hour and a half of welcome, scholarship presentation, a song by Greg Trafidlo (I hope), a short keynote and perhaps a short forum. We'll work out the format. Could be a longer keynote and no forum or a forum and no keynote. In any case, people will be in class by 9:30 or 10 a.m.

We're cutting the number of classes from 24 to about 15, maybe 18, and we're ending the conference
at 4:30 or 5, depending on when we start classes. The price will drop $10 to $15. Everything else remains the same. Classes will be an hour and we'll have some of the best people in our region--and in the nation--teaching.

Alice de Sturler prepares her class.
We are looking seriously at forming a Women's Forum for writers, which would likely meet quarterly. I'm putting together a committee for that right now to look into goals and priorities. I would leave any leadership position once this is
formulated and leadership put into place. We have some very good people taking part already and I'm looking for one more person from Lynchburg, Roanoke and Blacksburg vicinities. They need to be women.

The networking this year was especially good from all I heard and I want to keep that trend going at breakneck speed. Writers spend entirely too much time alone and without the kind of feedback they get from this conference and the contacts we make there.

More later. I'm worn the hell out and I think I'll veg out tonight.

Publisher Terri Leidich spent an hour advising student Sarah Moore.
This year's forum was about getting published.
Va. Communications Hall of Fame teammates Anne Adams and Dan Smith.
Liz long talks to her class about blogging and other things.
Magazine writer Carol Alexander in class.
Journalist Anita Firebaugh makes a point.
Hollins English Professor Marilyn Moriarity listens intently.
Writer/photographer Anne Sampson with tech gur Janeson Keeley in class.
Author Ed Falco, who taught a class, was also a student.
Tim Thornton crams for his class.
Virginia Tech sports writer Brittany Keup in class.
Sarah Beth Jones and her mom Cheryl Greenburg share class.
Roland Lazenby introduces me to author Ran Henry and his wife.
Dan Casey's first Powerpoint presentation helped him tell stories.
Roland Lazenby kicks back in class.
Storyteller Saundra Kelly teaches.
Betsy Ashton's class was nearly full.
Former RRWC scholarship winner Ericka Kelly in class.