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Why I Write by Peter Golden

Peter Golden is an award-winning journalist, historian, and novelist. His new book, Wherever There Is Light by Atria Books, delves into the little known history of the rescue of German Jews from the Nazis by traditionally African-American colleges. The book is described as a “love story that’s epic and truly felt”. Peter and nine critically acclaimed authors were featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Mon., Oct. 17.

golden  Time moves, and I find myself, frequently against my will, moving right along with it. I’m a different husband than I used to be, a different father, and a different writer. Where my family is concerned, I’m different because in so many ways, large and small, what your loved ones need from you changes with the passing years. Yet I’m a different writer because the reasons I write have shifted, leaving me to marvel at how naive I once was and, I’m happy to say, how dedicated I have remained to the craft.

As a young teenager, long before I began writing seriously, it occurred to me that I had only one life and writing would enable me to enter worlds that were closed off to me—from pitching in a World Series at Yankee Stadium to residing in eighteenth-century Williamsburg or serving as your newly elected president.

By the end of college, I was familiar with Henry David Thoreau’s observation that most people wind up mired in quiet desperation, and since I was philosophically opposed to sustained misery, I started writing on a daily schedule. Thanks to the enchanting gift the young possess for self-deception, I soon convinced myself that writing was an effective method for bending reality in my preferred direction. Absolutely ridiculous, I know. And in my case, absolutely true.

Less than ten years later, I was earning a living by writing, and I knew that I was lucky to go to an office in my own house and pay my bills by doing work I enjoyed. Still, money, like love, is usually something you think about only if you don’t have enough, and although by my thirties I felt relatively secure in my career, on occasion I asked myself why I got up every morning to face a blank page.

Honestly, I’m not sure I had a good answer to that question back then.

Now, after writing almost every day of my life for over thirty-five years, here is what I discovered: nothing, other than the joys of family and friends, gives me more pleasure than writing a sentence that informs me emotionally or intellectually. Of course, I hope others are touched or informed by that sentence. But if not, at least I tried.

And I wrote the sentence.

Peter Golden was born in Newark, New Jersey and grew up in the suburbs of South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey, where he graduated from Columbia High School. He attended Ohio University for two years then transferred to SUNY Albany, graduating with a BA in Philosophy. He lives in Guilderland, New York, with his wife, a communication professor at University at Albany.

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to priscillagoudreausantos@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post”.

 

From the Cupboard by Susan Crawford

This guest post is written by Susan Crawford, author of The Pocket Wife and The Other Widow by Morrow-Harper Collins. She and nine critically acclaimed authors will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Mon., Oct. 17.

susan-crawford-9780062362889_1_a0496Readers occasionally ask me where I get the ideas for my books. “Well,” I say, “there was this article in the newspaper equating homicides with mental illness,” or, “There’s so much more to PTSD than soldiers coming back from war,” or, “I thought it would be challenging to write a sympathetic ‘other woman.’” And these are reasons for writing what I write. They are, at least, the origins, the seeds. What sprouts from them though, the stories, the characters that populate the living rooms, the subways, the streets, and ultimately the pages of my books, are not as easy to explain. In a way, they’re far less rational.

They live inside my head. Like dreams or words I’ve overheard, they dance onto the page. I unlock a cupboard and the characters spill out. With a little nudge they grow and blossom. They invent themselves, become the people that will talk and love and die and kill for the next year of my life, the next three hundred pages. The voices of dead fathers whisper in their ears or turn their hearts to stone. A pinkish sky, a certain smell, a sound, can snatch them from their lives and set them down beside a beach decades before or underneath a blanket from the Andes in a winter room with dirty glass, a broken wall.

For me, the characters make the plot work. They should grab readers by the hand and spirit them away – to a party, down an icy street at midnight, to a lover’s rented room – toward a happy ending, toward redemption, hope, or straight into a wall. Whether they are sunny or demonic, honest or deceptive, they must entice the reader to be right there with them – missing phone calls, burning dinners, losing sleep – following with loyalty and expectation, waiting for motives to come to light, for actions to jar, to change events, to make a difference, to enlighten and inspire. The characters can be right or wrong, good or not so good, as long as they’re believable, as long as they can touch the reader in some way.

book-jacket-the-other-widowMaybe they’re composites, bits and pieces of people I’ve known, or seen or heard or been.  Or maybe they’re forgotten words or incidents I’ve tucked away to look at later, to sort through and analyze, to try to make sense of the world. Maybe that’s what we all are underneath, behind our flesh and tears and smiles – composites of our pasts, of those we loved, or touched, or couldn’t quite, of those we lost. Maybe we’re like antennae shifting through space, picking up frequencies, picking up stories, other places, other times, other rooms. Maybe I am really just a scribe.

I don’t write about real people. I write fiction. But I wonder sometimes if the two are all that different – if their fragments and details fall together in a certain way to make a character in fiction rather than my next-door neighbor or my friend from high school. I’ve read that there are only seven basic stories told in countless ways – the human condition, thrown down like cards to land in myriad configurations – Dorrie from The Other Widow, different from the woman in the book I’m writing now because she grew up in a different place, a different situation. Just as we are molded by circumstance and chance, by where we landed and began and where we go from there, the characters fall from their cupboards, brush themselves off, and march onto the page.

Susan grew up in Miami, Florida. She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Susan works for the Department of Technical and Adult Education and is a member of her local planning commission. She now lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

More about Susan:  wwwsusancrawfordnovelist.com, Twitter: crawfordsusanh, Facebook: Susan Crawford Author

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to priscillagoudreausantos@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post”. 

 

The Perils of Too Much Self by Ashley Mace Havird

This guest post is written by Ashley Mace Havird, author of debut novel, Lightningstruck, by Mercer University Press. She and nine critically acclaimed authors will be featured at the Women’s National Book Association Charlotte’s 7th Annual “BIBLIOFEAST” Book & Author Dinner on Oct. 17.

head-shot-ashley-havirdI grew up on a South Carolina tobacco farm from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s. As the main character, eleven-year-old Etta, says in Lightningstruck: “The entire year seemed like a patchwork quilt whose pattern told the story of tobacco.” Growing tobacco was like a ballet, a symphony whose final movement reached a crescendo in the end-of-season market with its “toasty smells of cured tobacco, the taste of boiled peanuts, the singsong speed-talk of the auctioneer.” The economy of the area depended on farming, and tobacco was the cash crop. During the market days, in fact, people would joke that the entire town of Mullins, with its enormous warehouses, “smelled like money.” I took for granted, as all children do, that this world would last forever.

I left home for college and never returned for good, but I visited my family often—still do. With the demise of the domestic tobacco industry accelerating in the late 1970s and early ’80s, my father and brother, like so many other lifelong farmers, gradually gave it up. The landscape of the area, its wooden stick barns already having given way to aluminum “bulk” barns, and sophisticated machines having replaced much of the manual labor—this landscape changed even more dramatically. The vast fields of green leaf vanished, and the economies of rural communities collapsed. The landscape of my memory vanished and took its people with it.

Around fifteen years ago, I was a fiction-writer-turned-poet. But I wanted to recreate this lost world in a longer form than poems afforded. So, I jumped in with what I believed was a memoir. But in the end, my life was interesting only to me. The interest, I discovered after much fumbling, lay not so much in my personal story but in the fabric of the times, the radical changes occurring on so many levels. There was the good, the bad, and the ugly of the tobacco industry, with its hierarchy of wealthy and health-problem-denying industry leaders down to laborers who worked from “can’t see to can’t see.” There were the tensions of the Civil Rights Movement, which was finding its way even into our closed-in part of the South. The Vietnam War was ramping up. All of this occurring during a girl’s coming of age, which included painful discoveries about herself and family and society—troubles that, when purely my own, were not particularly interesting, although they could be if I could only exaggerate …These things drew me towards the novel, towards inventing. I began to see that this was the only way I could explore the larger truth I was after. Besides, my precious memoir was flat-out boring.

I had major problems to solve. What to do about self-indulgent scenes and a plot that was loose at best? The horse, which became the main source of tension in Lightningstruck, was a minor character. The story’s all-important “trouble” was vague, ill-defined.

Nothing to do, of course, but to begin the slaughter: I had to kill many darlings, nearly all of them, and create brand new ones. Without new characters, such as the eccentric civil rights activist, Miss Cass, and the young archaeologist, Dr. Raintree, the book would have been stuck like an insect in amber. I shifted the story into third person to further detach my Self from Etta, and I allowed Etta’s problems to become far more exciting than mine ever were. I was able to keep my central characters, unlocking them from their chains to actual people, and I “grew” the horse, Troy, until he haunted me and became for Etta the major antagonist he had to be.

The tearing down, rethinking, and rebuilding, added years to the novel’s progress. It was only the curiosity and passion I had for the world I was bringing back, the love for my characters, and my own stubbornness that made the final draft—once again in first person—possible. Would I have been able to complete the book if I hadn’t put myself through all these contortions? I have no idea. I’d certainly have saved myself grief and time if I’d identified the genre to begin with.

Still, there is no question but that the autobiographical elements enrich Lightningstruck. Beyond the story of Etta’s coming of age by way of a treasure-hunt with a lightning-scarred horse, the book is an elegy to a past world, an homage to people I knew and loved. It is a sort of archaeological exploration of what it means to dig for truth, beneath tobacco fields and down through layers into the past—a truth that, when found, is as much mine, and I hope the reader’s truth, as it is Etta’s.

Ashley Mace Havird grew up on a tobacco farm in South Carolina. She has published three collections of poems, including THE GARDEN OF THE FUGITIVES (2014), which won the 2013 X. J. Kennedy Prize. Her poems and stories have appeared in many journals, including Shenandoah, The Southern Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. Lightningstruck, winner of the 2015 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction, is her first novel.

Want to write a guest post for All About the Authors? We welcome guest posts from authors and those who are experts in the book industry. What is your writing process? Where are you in your publishing journey and what advice do you have? Have you successfully marketed your book and do you have tips to share? All About the Authors wants to hear from you! If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to All About the Authors, please send your information and topic idea to priscillagoudreausantos@gmail.com with the subject line “Guest Post”.