I’ve been taking notes a lot lately. In conferences. In workshops. While listening to other people’s conversations secretly. I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of writing. Creatively. Or even just feeling the pen gliding along the surface of my notebooks. I’ve been out of practice for far too long.

I got to spend a few days at Denton Loving’s The Orchard Keepers Writers Residency a couple of weeks after the cruise. I cat-sat for his sweet feline babies, Dorie (The Story Cat), Willie, and Bo. I didn’t get nearly as much writing done as I had hoped to. I’m trying to put out a fourth book by the end of the year, so I’m faced with the decisions of what writing from the past few years to include, and what to leave out. I’m really not great at decisions like that. I looked through maybe two dozen pieces, looking for overlapping themes, motifs, etc. And all I really decided was not to include the pieces that are children’s literature. Still, I did decide that much.

The weekend of April 7-10, I was in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for the annual Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference. It was so awesome to see folks again in person, instead of in little boxes across a computer screen. And to hug people, and shake hands, and see people present in real time with no freezing or lags. Shawna Kay Rodenburg did a fabulous job with her nonfiction presentations. I was so impressed, I bought her book Kin, published last year to great reviews, and plan to take a three-week class with her through The Makery (online programs through Hindman Settlement School), in May. I also got to be part of Denton Loving’s workshops on fiction and ekphrastic writing. I skipped a couple of sessions on Friday afternoon to take part in a second conference online, honoring Harriet Arnow, where he was presenting a poetry workshop; that was also excellent! Lisa Coffman presented the poetry sessions at the TMW conference, and she was great, too. The banquet was fabulous, as always. I was thrilled, honored, humbled, and proud to bring home another gorgeous plaque from them, this time in Children’s Literature for a piece called “Red Bird Rules.” This is a children’s version of a story about Granny Vance and her penchant and poem for red bird watching. I also met a really great guy named Daniel Ray, who was attending his first-ever writing conference. Daniel took home a gorgeous plaque for first place in Fantasy – and the incomparable Sue Ellen Hudson Trophy for best of the best this year. Congratulations! (Remember this name, because I feel certain you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future!)

That weekend, I got to spend some time talking to Wendy Dinwiddie, whom I’ve asked to edit the book that I hope will be out later this year. I met Wendy years ago when she was an intern at Lincoln Memorial University’s Mountain Heritage Lit Festival, back in the days when Denton and Darnell Arnoult were running it. I’ve taken several of her writing workshops and am always impressed with her knowledge, instruction, and what I get out of her sessions. So I’m especially excited that she will be editing this next project for me. And, miracle of miracle, she volunteered to go through my materials and choose what she thinks will work best together! I don’t have to try to decide now, lol! Wendy has a great website and will offer several online writing workshops through Zoom this Summer, so check her out on Twitter and Instagram – be sure to look her up! Her website is www.WendyDinwiddie.com – I’ll try to include more info on her upcoming events when I get a schedule.

Speaking of Wendy, I sat in on one of her workshops through the Chattanooga Writers Guild, a couple of weekends ago. It dealt with flash fiction. I got some good stuff out of it, one piece in particular, that isn’t fiction, but that I’ve been trying to get out since Tasha and I visited Nice and first saw the Mediterranean in August 2013. I was pleased with how it turned out, and want to work with it some more to polish it up.

There are several writing deadlines coming up. Our manuscripts for Hindman are due on May 1. While I’m still trying to decide whether to try for Short Story with Jayne Moore Waldrop, or Creative Nonfiction with Meredith McCarroll, I do at least know now what I’m writing about, or, rather, who. He’s a larger-than-life character from my own experiences, but I may fictionalize some of the details and try turning it into a short story. Now… To get it out of my head and into a file to be edited, etc., by May 1. I’m trying my hand at a couple of new-to-me publications between now and June, too. Entries for the Mountain Heritage Lit Festival contests are due on May 20 – the day I have my next doctor’s appointment, and also leave for Roanoke, where I will fly out the following day to Miami, where my friend Lynne and I will embark on a Caribbean Cruise together aboard the Explorer of the Seas – so, if things don’t change between now and then, we have to have covid tests on May 20, too, and test negative to get to go on the cruise.

Later this week, I plan on seeing Annette Saunook Clapsaddle give a reading at the Kingsport Public Library. Annette is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, and a phenomenal writer! I read and loved her first book last Summer, Even As We Breathe. She was on the staff at Hindman last July, but her class met at the same time as my own, so I couldn’t audit hers. Therefore, I’m really excited about seeing her here in our area. I’m hoping for a spectacular turnout; she completely deserves that.

I’m looking forward to Shawna Kay’s class through The Makery at Hindman next month. I’m hoping to get some good words and ideas flowing and work towards some of these contest deadlines on the horizon, in the process. Good luck to my fellow writers! It’s a busy time of year for us all, I know!