Monday, April 30, 2012

Wordsmiths teaching the write stuff

John Dufresne
ROSEMARY BEACH — All stories are about love and death, according to Dania Beach author John Dufresne. Even this one.

Dufresne is one of the authors who will lead the three-day Conference for Writers hosted by the Rosemary Beach Foundation on May 9-11. Writers in all stages of development are invited to attend the gathering, where aspiring and accomplished authors will enjoy morning workshops, craft classes and a flash fiction “boot camp,” afternoon lectures and panels, and nightly receptions and readings.

The conference provides an opportunity for networking, creativity and motivation. But mostly, it’s about storytelling. Killing your darlings, if you get the editorial reference. Love and death.

Featured faculty make up a collection of award-winners and gifted teachers, including creative non-fiction writer and editor Lynne Barrett; poet Rick Campbell; and fiction writers John Cottle, Miles DeMott, Leonard Nash, Laura Lee Smith and the aforementioned Dufresne, who recently was named a Guggenheim fellow in creative arts/fiction.

Barrett will teach a creative nonfiction class; Dufresne will teach novel writing and flash fiction; Campbell will teach poetry; and Nash, Smith, DeMott and Cottle will teach fiction. The classes take place at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 9, through Friday, May 11, at Rosemary Beach Town Hall and other local venues.

The conference is open to writers of all skill levels. Registration is required: $300 for all three days (student rate $200) or $125 per day. Contact Malayne DeMars, executive director of the Rosemary Beach Foundation, at or 850-231-7382.

However, there also will be a series of free evening events for the general public. The events have proved popular in the past, DeMars said, as “featured faculty will read excerpts from their published poetry, fiction and short stories.”

Events include: Faculty reading 5-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, featuring Barrett, Campbell, DeMott and Smith at the Rosemary Beach Town Hall; Book signing and reception 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 10, at Hidden Lantern Bookstore and Gallery; and, faculty reading 5:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, May 11, featuring Cottle, Dufresne and Nash at the Rosemary Beach Town Hall. Admission will be free for these events, but there is a $5 suggested donation to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of the Emerald Coast.

What do you love? What’s killing you? What haunts you? Come out, share and discover the stories.



(This is my Undercurrents column for The News Herald for April 26.)
<< Go there to see links to the various authors' websites.

Read something I wrote about the spring writers conference the last time I visited.<< (I was in a strange mood.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three Heathers: Meet the Artists

PANAMA CITY — The Heathers get the spotlight this weekend at CityArts Cooperative in downtown Panama City this month.

Not only is the current exhibit — “Heather, Heather, Heather” — a collection of work by three artists who share the same name, but also special consideration will be given to any visitors named Heather who attend Saturday’s Meet the Artists reception.

The three featured artists — Heather Clements, Heather Hay and Heather Parker — are all directors at CityArts.

“At least once a week, there are three Heathers in the building. Whenever someone calls out, ‘Heather!’ we all, of course, react,” Clements said. “As annoying/funny as that is, we decided to turn it into a positive: an art show. … We thought of all the possible names, but wanted to make people actually have to say the name three whole times, so we are indeed calling it ‘Heather, Heather, Heather.’”

CityArts Cooperative, 318 Luverne Ave., is a community of visual, literary and performing artists who have formed the largest arts co-op in Northwest Florida, according to the directors. Hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m.; browse the contemporary art gallery, tour the artist’s studios, learn about free art events and sign up for art and dance classes.

The exhibit — which opened April 4 and will continue through June 2 — features Clements’ intricate papercut art, Hay’s multimedia art inspired by her experiences with Chautauqua Learn and Serve Charter School, and Parker’s acrylic on wood and assemblage art.

Other aspects of the exhibit will evolve over time, enticing return visits to view the progress of interactive pieces. Clements said visitors named Heather would be invited to participate in the collaborative portion of the exhibit.

“We knew we’d be setting ourselves up for some joking and kidding with the ‘Heather, Heather, Heather’ show, so we decided to play into it,” Parker said. “Along with our art, the two-month exhibit features interactive pieces so visitors can share in the fun, with special courtesies extended to anyone named Heather.”

During the reception 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, anyone whose name happens to be Heather will receive special treats: free cupcakes, a chance to participate in a group photograph of “a field of Heather” (the people, not the flowers) at 4:30 p.m., and more.

Clements will entertain by playing the musical saw while visitors enjoy light refreshments. The movie “Heathers,” which also features three Heathers, will be shown.

A second artists’ reception (4 to 6 p.m. on May 19) will provide an opportunity for everyone to be a Heather for a day. “We will have ‘Heather’ name tags for all,” Clements explained.

This is my Undercurrents column for the News Herald this week.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Record store day is coming up April 21

Owsley Bros. @ Central Square
SEASIDE — It’s more than just nostalgia, this love of flat discs of vinyl imprinted with spiral grooves. And it can’t be hipsterism, because frankly I’m just too old to be hip.

Yes, I recall the first record I bought (the “Popcorn” single by Hot Butter, 1972; I was 8). I recall the 45s my dad gave me to listen to on my Close-N-Play in the years prior to that (“Rip It Up” by Elvis Presley, “Every Day” by Buddy Holley).

Mine was a childhood of Disney albums and Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Favorites,” and doing household chores to the sound of my mother’s Broadway musical albums (“Annie Get Your Gun” and “Fiddler on the Roof”).

Later I graduated to hand-me-down 8-tracks, and when cassettes came into fashion I used them to copy my vinyl. No one would buy an album on cassette, right?

I still have a turntable. I even have one that connects to my laptop so I can digitize my old records. But these days, I tend to buy old records just for the artwork; I frame them and display them on a wall, and I change them out as the seasons shift or my mood alters.

My most recent vinyl purchase — meant for listening — was The Mountain Goats’ “All Eternals Deck,” which came with a digital download of the album. Before that, I picked up the unlikely but awesomely titled “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space” at a yard sale in the Country Club out in Lynn Haven; it will go up on the wall one of these days.

I’m thinking about all this because the annual Record Store Day is approaching.

On the third Saturday of each April, the joy of sharing music via the medium of vinyl discs is celebrated with International Record Store Day. The event is intended to focus attention on the niche art of vinyl recording as well as the independent record store by drawing fans to stores for special appearances, live performances, art exhibits, and deals on special record releases and other promotional products.

According to, Metallica officially kicked off the original Record Store Day at Rasputin Music in San Francisco on April 19, 2008. Now standalone brick-and-mortar retailers around the world mark the day with their own unique festivities.

Since the shuttering of Tek Records in Panama City, the only independent record store in the area is now Central Square Records in Seaside (above Sundog Books). On April 21, Central Square “will have a boatload of exclusive releases,” live music throughout the day and giveaways including tote bags, label samplers and more, according to manager Tom King.

“We have confirmed critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter Daphne Willis and our local phenoms the Owsley Brothers for in-store performances,” the shop’s website says. More performers will be announced as the date draws near. King added that Willis will play about 4 p.m. and the Owsley Brothers about 6:30 p.m.

This is Central Square’s fourth year to participate in the event. The store will open early (8 a.m.) for what the staff calls “the best music day of the year.”

See you on the flip side.

This was my "undercurrents" column for Thursday's paper.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Short, dark (k)night of the soul

PANAMA CITY — I had an existential crisis Tuesday evening. Somehow, it was appropriate that the Silver Surfer — herald of Galactus, conflicted bearer of the Power Cosmic — hovered in a corner, keeping a passive chromium eye on the proceedings.

For those without access to Wikipedia, an “existential crisis” is defined as “a stage of development at which an individual questions the very foundations of his or her life: whether his or her life has any meaning, purpose or value.”

The good news (at least for me): I still reach stages of development.

Such crises can be the result of a sense of isolation; a sudden awareness of one’s mortality; coming to believe one’s life has no objective, purpose of greater meaning; realization of one’s freedom of choice and the consequences of one’s actions; or an experience that causes one to seek meaning.

They can be brought on by a significant event in life: the death of a loved one or birth of a child, a change in marital/relationship status, drug use, empty nest syndrome or reaching a milestone age.

For the Surfer, the crisis hit when he recognized the value of human life, the consequences of his actions, and came to the realization that his own life was meaningless without others. That’s when he turned a corner and became a hero, a knight of the spaceways.

For me, it struck as I stood in the Surfer’s shadow in a comic book shop, surrounded by a couple of dozen shoppers and several hundred bagged and boarded volumes of illustrated stories that were priced 50-percent off for a limited time. It struck as I sorted through boxes and browsed racks and book shelves and watched the others gathering personal treasures by the handfuls and stacks.

In their midst, I alone was empty handed. What was wrong with me?

I had entered a comic book shop under the best possible of circumstances — I had a store credit created by selling a bunch of comics here earlier this year — and could locate nothing I wanted to own.

I know: Madness, right?

As a writer, I recognize that sublimation is my tool of choice when encountering existential despair. I tend to refocus my energy away from the negative, distance myself, examine the moment and use the energy to create something else.

But I also rely on distraction to “prevent the mind from turning in on itself,” as the definition goes. Distraction in the form of easy entertainment.

Comic books, for instance.

Thus the dilemma: My method of distraction from existential angst had led me into a fresh crisis. How could I continue? It was a closed space-time loop, a tale of a snake eating its tail, a moebius comic strip. You get the gist. Only something drastic could break me loose —

— Ooh, free buttons?

The moment passed. Inertia overcome by the freebies table. The short, dark night of the soul lifted.


(This is my "Undercurrents" column for Thursday's News Herald. See more photos here.)