Gearing Up For AWP

by Heather Newton on March 28, 2016

I think AWP (annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) will be chill this year. I don’t have a new book out so I don’t have to self-promote. I have an agent, so I don’t have to corner agents in the ladies’ room and push sample pages under the stall door. I’m not famous, so I don’t have to don dark glasses and act put-upon. I’m a 52 year old woman at whom no one is looking (power of invisibility) so I don’t have to spend money on new clothes. I’m meeting up with friends from LA so I’m bound to get a taste of the town. In looking at the panels I’m interested in, they fall into a few categories, all passions of mine: 1) diversity (how to write diverse characters and teach diverse students); 2) how to better teach creative writing; and 3) community-based writing programs.  Oh, and at least one on adapting novels to screen because it is California and dreamin’ is free. Last but not least, I’m staying in a nice hotel, something you other busy moms out there will appreciate. To borrow a cliche, it’s all good. See y’all in LA.

I’m a writer and a lawyer and a mother and wife and a person of faith. For many years, I believed that the best way to make time for all of these important aspects of my life–especially the writing–was to compartmentalize, setting up rigid mental walls to designate the time and energy I would allot to each area. Especially after I added motherhood to the mix, keeping things separate became increasingly difficult. When sick kid or client emergency or church obligation interfered with my writing time it left me stressed out and frustrated.
Then one July at a party I talked to an old friend, Jim, who had gone to seminary as a second career and been assigned to pastor a very small church. He told me that because the church had no other staff he was effectively on call all the time, to the point that his professional, private and spiritual lives were no longer distinguishable. He said he had never been happier.
Jim doesn’t remember that conversation, but it changed my life. After seeing how joyful he was, I made a decision to take down the walls I had erected and let all parts of my life bleed together.
The first step was to tell people at work and church that I was a writer. I had kept it a secret and never said “I’m a writer” out of fear of the next question: “Oh really? What have you published?” At the time I hadn’t published anything significant. But I began telling people. Putting words to the writing made it real and deserving of priority.
I let my legal work and writing merge. I expanded my law practice to include the representation of other writers, reviewing publishing contracts and handling copyright issues, something I had done for myself and my writer-mother for years but not for other clients. I offered the literary community workshops on copyright, trademark and contracts. At church, where I help teach adult Sunday School, I led the class in a creative writing exercise as part of the Bible study lesson, and read from my fiction at a service focused on the arts. When head lice visited our house (my head is itching just writing this) I took revenge by incorporating the little buggers into the novel I was writing. I learned to write with my child in the same room, even if she made noise and squirmed. As she has aged and become a fine writer herself I’ve enlisted her to help me write believable teenaged characters.
In her book Writing Changes Everything, the late and lovely Deborah Brodie quotes novelist Katherine Paterson as saying:

I was writing–learning and growing along with the children–until eventually I was writing fiction worthy of publication. It might have happened sooner had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.

Life is abundant. Don’t try to divide or conserve it. Just let it be one big old beautiful mess.

Copyright 2015 by Heather Newton

Under the Mercy Trees

February 1, 2016

Praise for Under The Mercy Trees, winner of the 2011 Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, SIBA Okra Pick, Women’s National Book Association Great Group Reads Selection: From Publishers Weekly Newton delivers a stirring debut novel told from the perspectives of four central characters embroiled in a family drama that spans generations and is riddled with […]

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Legal Lessons for North Carolina Teachers

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  For many years, I have represented North Carolina educators as they try to perform their jobs with diminishing resources, at times without the support they deserve from administration and their elected representatives. As we enter a new school year, here are my tips to educators for how to protect their employment while providing high-quality […]

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September Is The Literary-est Month!

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Two more literary events I hope you’ll join me for in Asheville this month: On September 21st at 3 p.m., I’ll be reading with other members of the Great Smokies Writing Program faculty at Malaprop’s as part of the Writers At Home Series.  Haven’t decided what to read yet. Maybe something from my new novel […]

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Join Me For Back-To-Back Literary Events in the Mountains, September 6-7, 2014

August 18, 2014

I’ll be reading from and discussing Under The Mercy Trees and new work at two events the weekend of September 6th and 7th. On Saturday the 6th, join me at the Mountain Literary Festival in Burnsville for sessions at 10:45 and 2:00 and a book signing at noon.  While you’re there, enjoy readings, workshops and […]

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Listen to “Things Summoned” Courtesy of The Drum–A Literary Magazine for Your Ears

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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: http://www.drumlitmag.com/index.php?page=contributors&display=816  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.  […]

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Join Me For a “Such A Character” Workshop Starting February 18, 2014

November 6, 2013

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 […]

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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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