I’m staying really busy with writing activities so far in 2024. I don’t feel like I’m producing much at the moment, but I’m taking classes, preparing for conferences, and submitting like crazy. Some days, I question if I’m expending energy towards the right (write?) things at the moment, but when cool classes come your way, I believe in taking advantage of them, if you can. So, that’s what I’m doing.


It’s February. If you read my blogs, you might remember from last February, I did a Publishing Class with Diane Zinna that I got a lot of great information out of. Well, Diane has offered the class again this year and I enrolled for a second time. Some of the same editors are speaking, but several new ones are joining us, too. And, to be completely honest, I just find it fascinating to hear from all of them, even if it’s a genre I’m not particularly great at, or if it’s a publication I know I have little chance of ever being published in. (Some of these places publish less than 1% of all the submissions they receive – like a lot less than one percent – one of the places had an acceptance rate of like 0.2%! Ouch!) So far, we’ve heard from Rebecca Lehmann (Couplet Poetry), Denton Loving (Cutleaf), Courtney Harler (Craft Literary), Derek Askey (The Sun – who also gave us all a free one-year digital membership, yay!), Jehanne Dubrow (an author and publisher), Steve Chang and Veronica Klash (Okay Donkey), Allison K. Williams (Brevity – who once again agreed to take a look at up to five double-spaced pages from everyone in the class), Chuck Reece (Salvation South), Anthony Varallo and Gary Jackson (Swamp Pink), Christopher Allen (Smokelong), and Amanda Fields (Literary Mama). There will be nine more speakers, but I’ll miss the last one because I’ll be on the 80s Cruise (yes, it’s that time of year again, too). In addition to the editors, we have mini lessons about publishing from Diane daily. Things like preparing a submissions tracker, crafting cover letters, creating third-person bios, making sure a piece is ready to submit, dealing with rejection, responding to imposter syndrome (a topic near and dear to me, since my friends Sharon Shadrick, Sharon Waters, and I will be presenting a program about it at both the Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference in April and at the West Virginia Writers Conference in June), differentiating between conferences and workshops, using submitting tools like Submittable, learning about databases of publishing opportunities like Chill Subs and Duotrope, and so many other topics. 


Additionally, I’m taking a six-week workshop with the amazing Savannah Sipple on Saturdays from 9:30-11 a.m. that finishes on February 24. Savannah has taken through six weeks of working with various elements of writing – character, plot, point of view, intention, and more. The structure has allowed participants to choose their genre preference and work within the same structure weekly, or to change completely, whatever we feel like doing, which I personally have appreciated. There have been a couple of weeks when I wanted to work on poetry, but mostly, I’ve worked on scenes of ideas for the short story collection I’ve been working on since last September. I highly recommend Savannah as an instructor, should you get the chance to take a future class with her. And I’ve always recommended her writing. She and I were first timers together at Hindman what feels like a hundred years ago. She’s a talented poet and is now working on a novel. 


I’m still going to the 7:00 a.m. Writing Group most mornings. I’ve been writing mostly poetry there this year, as I’m part of a project called the Stafford Challenge, whose mission is to have participants write a poem a day for an entire year, beginning on January 17, 2024, and ending on January 16, 2025. So far, I’ve kept up with the challenge pretty well. I’ve missed a day here or there but managed to catch up the following day. I’m proud of that. I honestly wasn’t sure how I would do when I committed to it. I knew I would try, but I just wasn’t positive I would follow through. Now, I’m not saying it’s good poetry. And some of it has been Ambien-induced, so that may be the equivalent of a drug trip (having never been on an actual drug trip, I’m not certain, but I strongly suspect the experiences are similar). And there have been some days when a haiku or two was all I could squeeze out creatively. But I’m making the effort, and it feels cool to be part of this experience. 


I’ve read two books so far this year, which is saying something for me. I read Olive Kitteridge, which was a Pulitzer Prize winner, and everyone seems to ooh and aah about. I’ll be honest. I didn’t love it. In the end, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the main character, but I did like the structure of it being set up as a sort of set of stories where Olive “appears,” even if briefly in each one. I’m playing with the notion of overlapping/recurring characters and it was interesting to see how this particular author achieved it. 


The second book I read meant much more to me, as it was by a regional author I know and love. Crystal Wilkinson’s Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts is a fabulous concoction of memoir, narrative fiction, and family cookbook. While I can’t eat most of the things in it post-bariatric surgery, the recipes were indeed mouthwatering. I longed to try the recipes for Chess Pie, Caramel Cake, either of the Blackberry Cobblers, Praisesong Biscuits, or Ron’s Pulled Pork (pork just doesn’t like me, anymore). I may yet save up some cheats and get Russ to help me make one or two (you know I’m not the cook in this house, lol). Far from being just a cookbook, though, Crystal has brought to life her foremothers through their love of cooking, their love of sharing, and their love of family. She imagines what it was like for her “Grandma Aggy,” born in 1795 in Virginia and brought to Kentucky as a young slave girl, separated from her own mother, to live life as a slave, then married to her former owner’s son through spiritual conversations with Grandma Aggy. She connects five generations of strong Black women in Appalachia through family stories and foodways. She sparks the reader’s imagination and awakens a sense of urgency to remember our own foremothers in their own kitchens, their own special ways of concocting special treats beloved by our own families and treasured as memories by us all. So much of her story made me think of my own mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all whose kitchens I was fortunate enough to be present in at some point growing up, seeing how they did things, even though I cannot replicate any of those culinary traditions on my own. I’m so thankful to Crystal for the gift of her words, the power of her memories, and the strength of her kitchen ghosts.