The Writing Life 

A road trip on the path to publishing.

It's been going great guns," says publicist Greg Hatfield. "We're into our last leg of the tour, making a Southern swing."

Hatfield is referring to the Great American Writing Road Trip Adventure, a cross-country tour sponsored by Writer's Digest Books to promote the art of writing. Stops include more than 30 independent and chain bookstores nationwide, including Davis-Kidd in Memphis and Square Books in Oxford.

The goal of the tour: to get aspiring writers into print. The materials: networking info, in-store displays featuring titles on the techniques of writing, news of local workshops and writing groups, tips on finding an agent or the eye of an editor, plus some pointers from the pros.

In Memphis, that would be Marshall Boswell, Rhodes College associate professor of English and author (Trouble with Girls; a forthcoming novel from Bantam), and, in Oxford, Tom Franklin, Ole Miss writer-in-residence and author (Hell at the Breech; Poachers). The cost to the (writing and would-be published) public: free.

"We were kicking around ideas," says Hatfield, publicity manager for F+W Publications, the company behind The Writer's Market, the annual bible for those looking to publish. "We wanted to review our primary purpose, which is to promote writing. That comes in two parts: to help writers improve their craft and to get them published. We wanted to spread that message. We wanted to barnstorm the country and fit in as many bookstores as possible. At Writer's Digest Books, we have a good reputation for giving pretty solid advice. We don't sugar-coat it. It's hard work. You have to be dedicated. But for those who are drawn into the writing life, they'll find a way. They look to us."

On the local writing scene, Boswell says he looks to his neighborhood Burke's Book Store for local literary news, but he also sees signs of a developing citywide interest in writing of all kinds. He cites this October's Southern Festival of Books, which will take place in Memphis this year instead of Nashville, the River City Writers Series at the University of Memphis (under the direction of writing instructor Cary Holladay), Jeff Crook's recent Best of Memphis Anthology 2003, and Rhodes' own upcoming programs featuring poet Billy Collins and writer Sherman Alexie. For publishing purposes, networking's fine and good, Boswell adds, but for the aspiring writer, "there's no substitute for talent."

And if your talent runs to the novel or short story, Hatfield agrees that fiction is always at the top of the list: "Everyone wants to write the Great American Novel, including graphic novelists, but we're seeing more children's writers, nonfiction writers, you name it. We put the Road Trip schedule together, and then we heard: How come you're not coming here and you're going there? This from people in places where we're not going, such as Texas and Colorado. It's been amazing. We could be on the road for six months. People are starved for publishing information.

"So we're planning to keep the Web site open to continue encouraging writing groups across the country. While we have a number of booksignings year-round with Writer's Digest authors, this tour has given us a way to tie everything together. Whether next summer we barnstorm the country again, it's too early to tell. But the spirit is ongoing." n

The Great American Writing Road Trip Adventure will be at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on Thursday, July 22nd, at 6 p.m., and at Square Books in Oxford on Saturday, July 24th, at 2 p.m. For more information and news of the tour, go to www.livetowrite.com.





The Material Mode

Now in its 31st year, one of the longest-running U.S. literary gatherings focusing on one author returns, July 25th-29th, when the University of Mississippi again hosts the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference in Oxford.

This year's subject for discussion, "Faulkner and Material Culture," will be spread across five days of lectures, panels, exhibits, readings, stage performances, musical events, and area tours, all designed to highlight the "materially made world" in Faulkner's fiction, according to Donald Kartiganer, University of Mississippi professor of English and holder of the Howry Chair in Faulkner Studies.

"We are so embedded in a materially made world that we scarcely recognize it as a cultural mode," Kartiganer says.

For "mode," think Faulkner's use of homes, clothes, transportation, work, sports, food, and drink, or in the words of Taylor Hagood, a doctoral candidate in English at Ole Miss, something as seemingly incidental as the teeth marks on a pipe stem. Stuff, maybe, but the stuff of the writer's art.

On the 25th of July, look for an annual conference highlight: announcement of the winner of the Faux Faulkner Contest, which asks entrants to produce "one really good page of really bad Faulkner parody." Your host and coordinator for the event: the author's niece, Dean Faulkner Wells.

For information on conference fees, lodging, and meals, call 662-915-7283 or go to www.outreach.olemiss.edu/events/faulkner/. -- LG

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