Sunday, January 29, 2012

Notes from the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

Matthew Vollmer taught with a stomach virus.
A lot emerged from the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University Friday and yesterday, not the least of which was Doug Kovarik's suggestion that we make the conference an on-going event, via the Internet. I'm going to see if I can revive the blog I created three years ago.

Problem is that I forgot the dang password and I'll have to re-imagine that before I can do anything. What Doug was looking for, I think, is a good clearing house for the kind of information area and regional writers will want on a regular basis. This can be furnished by the writing community, which I would like to have direct access to the blog so it can contribute as needed.

Sarah Beth Jones
We have settled already on our keynote speaker for next year: author Gina Holmes, who was quite a hit this year. We'll have one other speaker, as well. Roland Lazenby and Cathy Hankla were good Friday night.

Here are some informal awards:
Gina Holmes

Guttiest Performance: Matthew Vollmer of Virginia Tech had a stomach virus Friday night, slept one hour, called me at 7 a.m. saying he was near death and couldn't make it. He showed up, taught his class and was a huge hit.

Highest Ratings: This is one that has been dominated in the past two years by Dave Cohan, a lawyer from Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore, who has presented a dynamite class on writers' legal rights and responsibilities. Dave was up there again this year, but my pal Sarah Beth Jones tied him at the top. Others with excellent marks from students included Matt Vollmer, Brooke McGlothlin, Doug Cumming, Maryke Barber, Michael Miller and Jim Minnick. The satisfaction level overall was quite high.

Chris Powell
The What Are You Expecting Award. A woman e-mailed me the week of the conference and asked if the $60 registration fee included the hotel room. I would love to see a hotel room she would consider acceptable.

Most Consistent Complaint: We cut off coffee at noon and stopped the water at the main table at the same time (thought there are several water fountains on the floor). The coffee vendor once told me that those attending the Writers Conference drink more coffee than any other group that meets at Hollins. By a lot.

MVP: As always, Chris Powell of Hollins who gets the details right and makes the conference run smoothly. Chris keeps a low profile, but she's the star.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Photo(s) of the Day: Writers Conference in Detail

New York-based literary agent Nat sobel drew a big crowd for his morning presentation.
Mollie Cox Bryan has a brand new novel.
Tech's Matthew Vollmer was too sick to teach, but taught anyway. Tough guy.
Dan Casey (left) and Roland Lazenby wow a young woman with their wisdom?
Mary Hill and Gabriel in class. Gabe brought his book and was a truly good boy.
'Blueberry Years' author Jim Minnick goes low tech.
Sarah Beth Jones wasn't really singing. I think.
Rachael Garrity, Janeson Keeley and I teach book marketing.
Next year's keynote speaker Gina Holmes teaches her class.
Hollins Professors Jeanne Larson and Cathy Hankla chat.
Brooke McGlothlin talks about book marketing.
FRONT's Tom Field in class.
Amy Gerber-Stroh talks film.
Reporter  Beth Macy lectures.
The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference finished up today with 23 classes and a lively round-table discussion of the coming changes in book publishing. It was a packed day for the sold-out conference (two in a row) and those who attended appeared to enjoy it. OK, so I'm the director, but I saw what I saw.

The one piece of news coming out of this one is that popular author Gina Holmes will be the keynote speaker for the 2013 conference. Gina was a big hit this year and she's a natural for the keynote spot. More later as we recruit faculty.

Friday, January 27, 2012

An Evening at the Roanoke Regional writers Conference

Teacher-writer Cathy Hankla addresses at attentive crowd at the opening session.
Roanoke writer Roland Lazenby (who has 60 books) gives the keynote.
Sarah Beth and Rob Jones talk to writer Neil Sagebiel of Floyd.
Free lunch draws a crowd.
Scholarship winners Laura Hawley (left, first) and Ashley Westmoreland flank their new favorite editr.
Hollins President Nancy Gray.
Roland and Cathy after their talks. Pretty people.
Cathy gets help with her presentation from Vanna Smith.
Some news guys just don't know when to quit.
Lovely Laura Hawley accepts scholarship ...
... from last year's winner Elizabeth Markham.
In the peanut gallery were Susan Ayers (left) and Janeson Keeley chatting.
Roland swears it was this big.
The opening volley of the Fifth Roanoke Regional Writers Conference went off with an enthusiastic crowd and a couple of marvelous tonight at Hollins. Writer and Hollins Professor Cathy Hankla opened the session with a lively talk and author Roland Lazenby talked about the high-end book business, where he dwells.

The conference sold out for the second straight year and gets into its 23 classes and roundtable discussion tomorrow. This is one of the truly fun events of the year for me. See you there.

(Photos by Rob Jones of No B.S. in Floyd and me. Thanks, Rob.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Headline of the Day

This brings up the question, "How'd they find it?"

Doctors Remove Pieces of Senator's Brain After Stroke

From the Huffington Post

A Good Little Country Station With Rustic Tax Advice

I don't know how Classic Country, WBRF and WWWJ in Galax, popped up on my car radio today, but it was a welcome visitor. This is a station entirely too far away and in too small a place to be as clear as a local station, but there it was playing some pretty good music.

I like country music from quite a few years ago. Not so much because it was more pure or less extensively produced, but ... well, because I do. How the hell can you explain taste?

What caught me, though, and led to this post, wasn't so much the music as it was a tax professional who was giving advice to the locals employing a Southwestern Virginia accent that would make Andy Griffith (from nearby Mt. Airy) sound like a snotty New Yorker. This guy was rustic. And his advice was spot-on, intelligent and clear. I listened for the entire drive and loved every minute of it.

The station's official spot on the dial is 98, but I brought it in on 96.9 in Roanoke and set my selector dealie there.

Roanoke Blogging (Etc.) Makes National News

A website called NetNewsCheck (here) has an interesting look at internet communication in Roanoke in its latest issue. Your favorite editr is quoted extensively on the second page of the piece, talking about blogging.

Callum Borchers, who wrote the piece, seems to be under the impression that this is a backwater, but one that is ahead of the curve when it comes to using the 'net. We're a "sleepy Southern town"  and Peter Veith, editor of Virginia Lawyers Weekly, says, “Nobody wants to say we’re a backwater, but maybe we’re not chasing as fast as some other places.” The story says 28 percent of Roanokers don't have internet at home. It did not report how many don't have indoor plumbing.

Peter said of your favorite editr: “He’s a very caustic writer. He can be profane. He’s got a burr in his saddle. He’s a bit of a maverick.” Your favorite editr prefers "grumpy old man."

In any case, Borchers, who obviously ain't from around here, takes a look at the "local" television station WSET, which is in Lynchburg (Roanoke has several VT stations of its own, thank you very much, two of which he mentions later) and he examines the local daily newspaper's foray into the 'net, one it says it is increasing exponentially in the future. Borchers found the paper's site to be exciting and vibrant. Many of us find it to be almost impossible to navigate.

Borchers writes about an important first amendment case that originated in Christiansburg over a blog post, as well. Good piece. Read it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

'Red Tails': Don't Waste Your Evening

The sad truth about "Red Tails" is that the men it seeks to recognize become cartoon characters in a movie that winds up glorifying war.

In a film where the star is special effects, some decent actors (Cuba Gooding Jr. among them) are wasted with lockerroom rah-rah speeches and sportsbar conversation. There is nothing courageous about the movie--it depicts these men as victims rather than honest Americans fighting for their country--and there is little to recommend it beyond its look.

I would love to see an honest look at these African-American pilots who acquited themselves well in one of the more difficult theaters of the war, but it doesn't look like that's on the horizon and this certainly wasn't it.

Griffith's (and My) Take on the State of the Union

Following is 9th District Congressman Morgan Griffith's response to Barack Obama's State of the Union address last night (with a few parenthetical comments from moi):

“While President Obama talks a good game, three years of failed economic policies and government overreach say otherwise (the "failed" policies are well on the way to bailing out eight years of George Bush's economic disaster). The President has said repeatedly that we need to create more jobs and grow the economy (he has done that).

"However, just last week, he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline permit (an ecological disaster waiting to happen), which would have created thousands of immediate American jobs. In addition,burdensome regulations are tying the hands of small business owners (while protecting workers, assuring a liveable wage and establishing that owners can't do anything they damn well please, regardless of who's hurt by it). When it comes to jobs, his record does not match his rhetoric (he has re-created a lot of jobs from the Bush rubble).

"If President Obama is truly interested in creating an economy ‘built to last,’ he needs to support regulatory relief for job creators, invest in America’s abundant energy resources, and rein in government spending (best described as "bullshit," especially the preference for polluting energy sources over the creation of clean energy and its accompanying economic development).

“Since taking office, I have learned that President Obama’s version of compromise means moving only toward his position (you're kidding, right?). But that is not the way it is supposed to work. President Obama and the Democrats in Congress need to come to the center (the Repubs fell off the playing field on the right and can't move to the center), instead of creating more gridlock in Washington. Hardworking American taxpayers deserve nothing less.”

This guy is the very definition of the Republican lunatic fringe. I'm embarrassed that he represents a portion of Virginia.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Sold Out

The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, for the second straight year, is a sellout.

All 150 spots were gone by noon today, according to Christine Powell, who runs special programs for Hollins University and who helps operate the conference.

This year, we relied heavily on social media to get the message out and it has worked strongly to our advantage. We have a couple of media events coming up that will effectively be moot, since we can't sell any more spots.

I want to thank all of the faculty members, students and anybody else who helped with this. You spreading the word has made us a success again.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

South Carolina and Republican Infidelity

Republican family watches debate on Channel 1956.
Is it just me or is there something in the South Carolina water that tells Republican politicians that fooling around is OK and even fits nicely with their family values mantra? Else, how would one explain:

Newt Gingrich wins the South Carolina primary easily, despite his serial indiscressions, all well-known and documented. Newtie not only doesn't apologize for his behavior, he blames it on the media. Good place to go when you're guilty, Republican and looking to change the subject. They call it the MSM, Mainstream Media.

Gov. Nikki Haley has been at the center of a storm for screwing a blogger, a lobbyist and an aid to former Gov. Mark Sanford (she says she didn't, but who wouldn't say that?). She was said to have a love nest in Washington and that she and her husband had an open marriage, meaning they could mess around without pissing each other off.

Gov. Mark Sanford's name might also ring a bell, since he's the guy who disappeared for a while, "hiking on the Appalachian Trail," he said. Nobody could find him, not even the ravenous media. The trail turned out to be a euphemism for heating up Argentina with his hottie mistress. He later quoted the Bible to explain what happened and why people should just damn well forget it.

Too bad Herman Cain isn't still around. He and Newtie would have cooked the S.C. primary.


Well, Shoot! I Don't See What's So Funny, Sir

Newt Gingrich's campaign expenditure in South Carolina, $1 million-plus. Calista Gingrich's most recent hair styling bill, $340,720. President Obama's reaction, priceless.

Oh, Newtie, You're Just a Funny, Funny Boy

Newtie's a real knee-slapper.
A website called "Addicting Info" has listed 18 quotes from Newt Gingrich that will give you a look at the inside a man of great Republican character ... or is that "another of those Republican characters"? (I threw in a few other quotes for good measure from a variety of sources.)

Here's some of what Gingrich, whom the Repubs consider an intellectual, has said in the past. God knows what he'll say today:
  • “The problem isn’t too little money in political campaigns, but not enough.”
  • “I have enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it. I am now a famous person. I represent real power.”
  • “Gingrich – Primary mission, Advocate of civilization, Definer of civilization, Teacher of the rules of civilization, Leader of the civilizing forces.” (Newt on Newt.)
  • “The most serious, systematic revolutionary of modern times.” (Newt on Newt II.)
  • “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”
  • “Now, we don’t get rid of it in round one because we don’t think that that’s politically smart, and we don’t think that’s the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it’s going to wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it — voluntarily.” (Newt on Medicare.)
  • “She isn’t young enough or pretty enough to be the president’s wife.” (Newt on his first wife.)
  • “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid … These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school.” (Newt on how to get rid of unions.)
  • “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.” (Observation: A large percentage of those lobbying for a national language--English--neither speak nor write it as well as many of our immigrants and would be loath to pass the literacy test they want to give those immigrants.)
  • "We should have two requirements for citizenship. You have to learn American history and pass a test about America, and you have to do it in English." (See note above.)
  • “The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness, and the total right to cripple innocent people in the name of letting hooligans loose.” (Channeling his inner Rush Limbaugh.)
  • “These people are sick. They are so consumed by their own power, by a Mussolini-like ego, that their willingness to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions is unending.” (Channeling his inner Rush II.)
  • “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words.” (Newt channeling his inner Karl Rove.)
  • “More people are on food stamps today because of Obama's policies than ever in history." (Like so much Newtie says, this is not true. There were more people on food stamps during the Bush II administration, making him the Welfare President, if you will.)
  • "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. There is no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."
  • "The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did."
  • "Public Broadcasting is a sandbox for the rich. The NEA and the HEH are simply enclaves of the left using your money to propagandize your children against your values."

    Repubs Kick Dem Ass on Raising the Debt (Yay, Repubs!)

    I found this floating around on Facebook. The data's from the Treasury Department. Might surprise a few of you. The score here is Republicans 359, Democrats 53 (with Obama bringing up the rear, scoring the least amount of increase). Repubs kick ass again.

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    'Amazon Tax' Issue Faces Virginia Lawmakers

    Tori Williams, the lobbyist for the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, tells us there's an epic battle brewing between those who would tax online retail giants and those who want to continue their tax exemptions in Virginia.

    Here's the report she just issued: 

    Traditional brick and mortar establishments are urging lawmakers to require on-line retailers to collect sales taxes from their customers in Virginia.

    Late last year, announced plans to invest $135 million to open two distribution centers in the Richmond region that will employ 1,350 people. Despite its physical presence in the Commonwealth, the on-line retailer will not be required to collect and remit state sales taxes. Trade groups representing traditional retailers contend that they face a competitive disadvantage by having to collect state sales taxes. In addition, they point out that the state is forfeiting millions of dollars in sales tax revenue. Amazon counters that its distribution centers are not legally considered retail establishments and are thus not required to collect and remit sales taxes.

    During the 2010 session, legislation that would have required on-line retailers to collect the state sales tax passed the Senate but was tabled in a House Finance sub-committee. On Wednesday, the Virginia Alliance for Mainstreet Fairness ratcheted up the pressure on lawmakers to close this loophole by releasing a public opinion poll that showed strong support to close the on-line loophole.

    Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) has introduced legislation to specify that a dealer that "maintains a distribution center, warehouse, fulfillment center, office, or similar location within the commonwealth that facilitates the delivery of property sold by the dealer to its customers" must collect and remit Virginia sales tax. 

    The Chamber "supports equalization of tax collection for all retailers" and so does the editor. I don't want a local book store to go out of business because doesn't have to pay taxes in this state (although I doubt a few cents on a book would make that big a difference; it's the principal: if you play, you pay).


    Musical Breasts: A Breakthrough in Communication

    Lovely, but do they sing?
    My friend Betsy Gehman sent the following:

    "Apple announced today that it has developed a breast implant that can store and play music. The iTit will cost from $499 to $699, depending on cup and speaker size. This is considered a major social breakthrough ... because women are always complaining about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them."

    I love the idea of looking and listening and I suspect women will buy them by the thousands. No more ogling, no more sharp, "Will you please stop looking at those and look at my face!", no more sideways glances at a magnificent rack, no more explaining that I wasn't looking at that other woman's chest, I simply noticed the intelligence in her face. Oh, the humanity.


    As the Marketing Machine Turns: TV Appearance

    Host Natalie Faunce and me during the show.
    Taubman's David Mickenburg (on TV) interviewed as others wait.
    Chris Miller (right) waiting to go on.
    Natalie Faunce with guitarist Chris Miller (who played my wedding).
    The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference's marketing maven (that would be me) turned to television today, making a noon-hour appearance on Blue Ridge with my pal Natalie Faunce and her on-air pardner Mike Wilson.

    Here's the video.

    Funny who you run into in these dealies. Sharing the stage today were Chris Miller, who played guitar at my most recent wedding (the one to Christina at Hollins about 11 years ago) and David Mickenburg of the Taubman Museum of Art. David was promoting a photo exhibition by photographers of a local daily newspaper and Chris was talking up an upcoming appearance at the Jefferson Center.

    We're still trying to fill up the seats at the Writers Conference next weekend and you can put your butt in one of those seats by going here. But don't wait to do it. We're nearly sold out.

    Proposal: Tax Smokers and Cut the Car Tax in Half

    New York's cigarette taxes are first, Virginia's are 50th.
    Here's a tax cut we all can love--well, most of us; we'll except those who love smoking.  Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington, a Democrat, has proposed that cutting the car tax in Virginia by half is workable if we will simply raise the tax on smoking and return that to the taxpayers.

    This will give us the opportunity to see just how strong the tobacco lobby remains (and my guess is that with all the bribery money it gives our legislators, it's pretty strong) in the face of constant setbacks. Hope says we'd not only save money, but we'd save lives. Smoking kills 400,000 Americans every year and god only knows how many people worldwide die from it, especially in those countries where people smoke like we did in the 1950s.

    Says Hope, "We need a shot in the arm for Virginia’s economy. I think working families are demanding it.” He adds (in a story on WVTF Public Radio this a.m.), “We rank 50th in the nation in funding in cigarette and tobacco tax. And what this would do is bring our cigarette and tobacco tax to just the national average. And the residual of those funds, which would raise about $300 million , would be directly applied to the car tax. It would give real Virginia families real relief when they need it the most.”

    The tax on a pack of cigarettes would go to $1.45 a pack and it would increase to 50 percent of the wholesale price of other tobacco products.


    Newt Gingrich and the 'Welfare President'

    Yesterday I heard a piece on Public Radio examining Newt Gingrich's assertion that President Obama is "the welfare president." Getting by the obvious racism implied in that statement, it simply isn't true. If there is a welfare president, based on the number of recipients, that would be George Bush.

    Welfare roles spike when the economy tanks. Who put the economy in the toilet? One guess.

    There are a lot of other misconceptions about welfare, as well. First would be that African-Americans make up the bulk of the welfare roles. White people actually account for 36 percent of recipients with Black people at 22 percent and Hispanics at 10 percent. Half of recipients are children, 10 percent are old and 20 percent disabled. If we want to shrink the roles, the easy way would be to starve the children, an option that Repubs seem to think is on the table.

    This is a program that began during the Great Depression and has provided some kind of emergency backup for most of its recipients since then. People don't want to be on welfare--as Gingrich so acidly suggests--but would rather work. When jobs are scarce, that option is considerably decreased, but to blame the victim here is so typical of the right-wing nutcase fringe, of which Gingrich is the reigning king, given the defections of his kindred spirits from the Republican race.


    OK, So How High Are Your Federal Taxes?

    "Together, all federal taxes equaled 14.4 percent of the nation’s economic output last year, lowest level since 1950. Add state and local taxes, and the share nearly doubles, to about 27 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center in Washington--still lower than at almost any other point in the last 40 years."

    --New York Times story today

    (There's also this one: "This disconnect between what we pay and what we think we pay is nothing less than one of the country’s biggest economic problems.")

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    Paula Deen's Diabetes Admission: Now, Get to Work!

    Paula and the foul fowl.
    I'll resist the temptation to call chef Paula Deen--her Southern Fried highness--off-color name,s following her revelation that she has Type II Diabetes, probably caused by that god-awful diet that she is pushing at everybody.

    Here's the short version of the sermon: Americans insist that the "nanny state" stay out of their personal decisions, even when those personal decisions cost the rest in a variety of ways: higher health insurarnce costs, higher medical costs, lost days at work for the obese and diabetic that puts pressure on co-workers and costs the company money, and a host of other issues. It is my business when your diet makes you sick and I have to help compensate for your costs. Not to mention that as a person with at least some level of concern for others, I'd love to see people live better.

    Deen is a pleasant, old-fashioned woman with an old fashioned sense of what a dinner table should look like. My mother would have loved her and they might have shared fried chicken and peach cobbler recipes. But they're both responsible for diets that kill people. My oldest brother died with all the stuff you get from that diet (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart trouble). My family is riddled with all those conditions and three or four years ago my brother, Sandy, lay on a gurney in a hospital, his heart in a surgeon's hand. Scared the living shit out of me and I got with the program.

    Which is what a whole lot of people who are mad at Paula Deen for revealing her diabetes should do. I have Type II diabetes and have been controlling it since I discovered it was present with diet and exercise, which would have kept me from getting it in the first place if I'd had any sense. Information is plentiful and readily available. This condition is so common that every physician knows it well and can help you with it.

    So, if you have belly fat or a bad diet without the belly fat, check with your doc and see if you're diabetic or pre-diabetic. It's treatable and it's not something to fear the way you would fear cancer. Respect diabetes and treat yourself with care and you'll do fine. But when Paula offers you a bulky fried chicken breast, put the back of your right hand to your head, close your eyes and say, "Dahlin' I feel faint." 

    (My friend Betsy Gehman adds this: "You forgot to mention the incredible public cost of diabetes-related dialysis treatments that turns people into invalids, results in a huge percentage of annual deaths related to infections incurred at dialysis centers, and the unbelievably enormous costs to taxpayers (to say nothing of the ever-inflating health insurance costs to people in the NON-diabetic/high blood pressure population who simply take better preventative care of themselves).

    ("The most interesting statistic is that an extremely high percentage of dialysis patients are much younger than 65, so it isn't the senior population that's sucking all this money out of our scandalous "health" system.

    ("Nowhere are PREVENTATIVE measures addressed yet by any of the politicians screaming about "Obamacare. Michelle Obama - the non-politician - has been addressing fresh food, diet and exercise issues almost since Day One in the White House. The lone voice in the wilderness.

    "Yet dialysis centers in the U.S. thrive and people continue to die prematurely.")

    Marketing Kicks Off for Writers Conference

    WVTF newsman Fred Echols (left) and I ran through the details of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at the radio station's studios a little while ago as  the full marketing surge gets underway with a little over a week to go until conference time.

    Fred is an excellent interviewer--like all the people at WVTF--who has a sense of humor I appreciate: subtle, bright and quick.

    The conference is Jan. 27-28 (Friday evening and all day Saturday) at Hollins University. We feature 23 classes, a roundtable discussion of a vital topic ("The Changing World of Publishing" is this year's topic), a wine reception and lunch on Saturday. It's all for $60 and you can register here.

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Tip of the Day: 'How a Book Is Born'

    Those of you looking for a little "inside baseball" (so to speak) look at the publishing industry and the production of a hot new book, The Art of Fielding, might do well to order this book. I just finished the The Art of Fielding, which was thoroughly entertaining, but this book about the book may be better.

    It's titled Vanity Fair's How a Book is Born: The Making of The Art of Fielding.

    Here's the link to Amazon's synopsis and order info. It's just $1.99, but you'll need a Kindle.