My short story, “Things Summoned,” is featured in the December 2013 issue of The Drum.  You can download and listen to me read it here:  This story is one of a dozen linked stories in a collection I’ve written, set on the campus of a boarding school in the north Georgia mountains in 1969-70.  To record it, I borrowed a friend’s iphone and cloistered myself in my (very messy) closet. Enjoy!

What if I told you this:

When my parents married in 1958, my father was French. He signed his name “Paien”  and gave my mother a set of French conversation records she can still quote from today:  “Je m’appelle Jean LeCarpentier mais je ne suis pas carpentier, ha ha ha.”  One Sunday they drove from the small town in Bladen County where my dad served as a Methodist pastor to Pinehurst to eat at an upscale French restaurant.  It was so expensive all they could afford was the green beans, les haricots verts.  Soon thereafter my father became an Eskimo.

My father’s name is Carl. He grew up a Methodist preacher’s kid.  As far as we know his only map-able genes are Scots-Irish and English.  His selection of Eskimo heritage did make a kind of sense, because he was born in Nome, Alaska, where his parents were missionaries to a mining community. They moved from Alaska when he was two, first to the Seattle area and then to North Carolina. My dad was eight when his family moved to North Carolina, where his father pastored various churches in Swan Quarter, Elizabethtown, Pittsboro, Burlington.  To protest the move my dad refused ever to develop a southern accent.

By the time I was born in 1963 my father had left the ministry, moved the family to Raleigh, and become Danish.  He hung a large red and white Danish flag above his desk in our living room.  When my third grade teacher asked us to tell our heritage, she must have been surprised when I, with my brown eyes and un-Viking-like dark hair, claimed Danish ancestry.

When I was twelve, my father became Greek. He listened to balalaika music and learned Greek folk dances.  He was the first person in Raleigh to discover feta cheese and kalamata olives.  He named himself “Karlos,” which he spelled with Greek letters.  He took a trip to Greece, bringing me back drachmas I could bend with my teeth and the palm-sized casing of some sea creature, bleached white by the sun and still smelling of the Aegean.

My dad was Greek for a long time–through a divorce, his children leaving home, his mother dying.  All the letters he wrote me in college were signed  “Karlos,” written in Greek letters.

Now my father is Scandinavian.

If I told you all this (some of which is true) you would say, “your father is such a character!”

We’ve all known people about whom we’ve said “he (or she) is such a character.”  Often we follow this statement by shaking our heads, rolling our eyes, or perhaps adding a “bless his heart.”  What is it about these folks that makes them so interesting and unforgettable?   How can we make our fictional characters just as compelling, without sacrificing credibility or resorting to stereotype?  Those are the questions we’ll explore in the “Such A Character” workshop I’ll be teaching for the Great Smokies Writing Program on Tuesday nights this spring.  The 10-week course begins February 18, 2014 and you can register for it here:

Join Me This Summer for “Sustaining Your Writing Life”

May 7, 2013

Join me this summer for “Sustaining Your Writing Life,” a five-week workshop I’ll be teaching for the Great Smokies Writing Program on Monday evenings 6-8:30 starting June 3rd (location TBA). Do you long to write, but just can’t seem to work it into your life? Do your writing resolutions last about as long as your […]

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Twitting. Tweetering. Tweeting–Whatever You Call It!

March 20, 2013

I don’t do Twitter, because I already have too many time-sucks in my life, but here are my responses to Twitter interview questions posed for an Indie book event: 1. Favorite book as a child?  Chronicles of Narnia 2. What are you reading right now?  The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova 3. Why independent bookstores matter? They […]

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On Being an Inconsistent Writer

October 17, 2012

On October 30th, my wonderful long-time writers’ group, the Flatiron Writers, will come to my house to critique the new novel I handed out to them to read a month ago.  I’ll provide food and drink and then sit like the proverbial fly on the wall while they discuss my novel the way a book […]

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Mama’s Fat Pants: The Gift of Written Expression

October 9, 2012

I grew up with a mother (Suzanne Newton) who was a writer.  Because of this, in the Newton family, expressing ourselves in writing came as naturally as speaking.  Sometimes my written expression was positive: I opened a poetry business in my bedroom offering to write poems for any occasion (my mother was my only customer).  […]

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Luddite Author Enters 21st Century: Creating an eBook

September 11, 2012

I am the second most technologically-impaired person I know.  (First prize goes to my mother).  I am so inept that after ten years of living in my house I still haven’t memorized which switches turn on which lights, and my husband had to prepare a notebook for me with instructions for operating the stereo and […]

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April 18, 2012

  27 Views of Asheville is now available in stores–the perfect Mother’s Day gift for the Asheville-loving mothers in your life!  Join us for the book launch at Malaprop’s in Asheville May 12th at 3 p.m., or at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville June 16th at 3 p.m.

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Vote AGAINST Amendment One

March 16, 2012

Writers are not supposed to be political, for fear of alienating readers who might buy our books, but as May 8th approaches I feel the need to say a few words about why I am voting AGAINST North Carolina’s Amendment One and why I think you should vote against it, too. Amendment One, crafted by our […]

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Under The Mercy Trees Wins 2011 Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award

December 19, 2011

On December 6, 2011 I was honored to accept the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award for Under The Mercy Trees.  The Western North Carolina Historical Society has given the award for literary excellence every year since 1955.  The list of past winners inscribed on the award’s trophy includes such North Carolina greats as Wilma Dykeman, John […]

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