Subject: NFW: Suarez Speaks; Can Writing be Evil? (WriteStuff 0507)
Date: Wed, 9 May 2007 12:48:08 -0400

The Electronic Write Stuff

 Writing News for the Sunshine State & the Solar System

North Florida Writers * May 2007 * Editors:  Howard Denson and Janet Vincent


In this issue:

Suarez to Speak to NFW’s May 12 Meeting

Can You Write Something That is Evil? – Howard Denson

Kummba at the Karpeles Kuumba Festival Programs

Ponte Vedra Library Slates Annual Book Fair

Quote from a Writer's Quill – Don Marquis

Writers Born This Month: Daphne DuMaurier, Tony Hillerman, Countee Cullen, and many others



At the May 12 meeting, the North Florida Writers’ guest speaker will be Caryn Suarez, an award-winning author and former president of the Florida Writers Association. She is the director of the Open Mic Jacksonville project, an anthology of poetry by some 50 poets from northeast Florida. She is the author of Passing Thoughts.

The meeting will be at 2 p.m. at the Webb Westconnett Branch Library (corner of 103rd Street and Harlow Boulevard). Guests are welcome.


Can You Write Something That is Evil?



      After the Virginia Tech shootings, we heard the discussions about the English teachers who were troubled by the writings of the future shooter. His writing had disturbing imagery and prophesized that he sorely needed psychiatric care.

      Teachers often have quirky, twitchy, or hostile students who creep them out and make them worry about their safety and that of other students. Whenever a tragedy like Virginia Tech or Columbine occurs, the teachers’ anxiety level skyrockets.

      Depending on the nature of the assignments, teachers often gain a clue into what is causing students’ hostility. (Someone more touchy-feely than I could probably get an entire class sharing and caring with each other, but my insights generally come from their writing of papers or journals.) 

      Some of the events in their personal essays range from divorces, family fights, and job losses to physical abuse, statutory rape, and addiction. Sometimes they are like one of my former students from decades ago who told me he was going to write a “really long” paper about the death of his brother in Vietnam, only to discover that he couldn’t put his anguish on paper. Sometimes they write about physical abuse as if it was a cliché; their words are all matter of fact without any apparent insight, perhaps because they are afraid to get any closer to the trauma. At other times, they are like the young woman who wrote about hitting bottom and going through weeks of rehab; she wrote 27,000 words about her experiences and felt triumphant when she was through.

      You can at least tell the aspiring writers that negative experiences in life are material for their writing. You can encourage them to use writing to process the evil in their lives. Writing at its core is moral and positive, for it cannot work effectively without order and an effort to communicate with others.

      So, would I have blown the whistle on the Virginia Tech shooter?  Probably not. Why? I would have expected the student to muddle on through, and I would have attributed the violent imagery in his writing to the clichés of current entertainment.

      Hollywood has spawned much bad writing. If you have a short fiction contest for high school students, you will attract a substantial percentage of stories that fall into the “teen slasher” category. One teenager in a story sticks his head into a room, only to have the psycho snick it off with a machete; another is totally safe, she thinks, cowering in a closet, but the psycho drives his weapon through the wall board and through her body. The images are clichés and often at most only reflect that the aspiring writer is too lazy to think of something truly original and scary. The audience generally laughs when each teen is offed.

      Warning bells may not go off, too, if only because serious writers of horror are generally decent human beings. Stephen King is nothing like the gore he puts on the page nor was H. P. Lovecraft. Edgar Allan Poe had a drinking problem and financial troubles, but he was a damned hard worker who wrote stories that the readers were eager to read. By contrast, Robert Frost often comes across as the kindly New England philosopher in his poems but, as a person, he was cold, vindictive, and thoroughly distasteful; even his biographer Lawrance Thompson couldn’t stand him. Dickens gave us Tiny Tim and “God bless everyone,” but domestically he was a rotter.

      Yet it wouldn’t be appropriate to value the writings of King, Lovecraft, and Poe above Frost’s work. His poetry may have largely represented the only Good of which he was capable. Do we reject that Good?

      Yet, what is Evil as far as writing is concerned? A kidnapper may take a child whom he plans to murder, and, if he writes a ransom note, that clearly is evil. On the other hand, if you or I write a novel about a similar event and we have the character write a ransom note with identical wording, it’s not evil.

      Some readers, no doubt, may want to quibble about whether Evil actually exists. Colloquially, it may be evil when someone plays a polka on an accordion, but Evil is certainly reflected in actions:  in those of Ted Bundy, the Virginia Tech shooter, the duo at Columbine, not to mention the Nazi concentration campus, the Kozovo genocides and rapes, Wounded Knee, etc.

      Would Hitler’s Mein Kampf be an example of Evil writing? Readers of the book in the late 1920s and 1930s did not pay attention to his recipe for destruction. Was the Evil in this Nazi manifesto or in the inattention of the readers?

      We have a long history of people saying that popular entertainment or writing was perverting young people. Today it’s motion pictures, video games, and websites. During the 20th Century, it was Captain Billy’s Whizbang, movies, pulp fiction, comic books, Saturday serials, radio, and then TV. At mid-century, an expert, Dr. Fredric Wertham, was dithering about Batman and Robin (a bit too chummy). He also fussed because horror comics from William Gaines were damaging tender young readers with gory tales of revenge and retribution in Tales from the Crypt and E.C.’s other comics.

      If we hope to avoid such mind-scrambling, we might urge young people to stick with Great Literature and the Bible. Nope, that won’t do. Hamlet is a blood-bath, Oedipus Rex is a familial wreck, the scripture goes from one tale of sin and degradation to another.

      Okay, if the mind is filled with elevating thoughts, then the end result would be better than what cartoons, comics, and movies produce, right?  Yet, trivial subject-matter and media have encouraged writers, directors, et al. to explore some serious subject matter.

      The popular entertainment media may be guilty in producing one big lie:  Death doesn’t exist. You pop a coin into a video game and shoot characters on the screen, raking up a score of 666. When the game ends, you pop another coin into the machine, shoot the characters again, and hope for a higher score. A character dies in a movie (Spock, Kirk, etc.), but the character is back in a sequel. Death, where is your sting?

      When young psychotics kill dozens and then go out with a bang, apparently they are waiting for another coin to be dropped into the machine or for the sequel DVD to arrive.

      A message from trivial to serious media over the centuries is that a hero strives to address a major problem and face a monster or a murderer, and often the hero pays the ultimate price, whether the character is Beowulf, Hamlet, or Wild Bill Hickock. The end is often an affirmation of life.

      News stories often report that police or maybe Homeland Security officers have arrested someone and try to use as a proof of the person’s intention to commit murder and mayhem a passage in a short story, film, or novel that the individual has written. He was thinking this; therefore, he intends to carry through with that. I’ve yet to read of some judge making a serious objection to such evidence. If such thinking had validity, Shakespeare alone would have been much time in the pokey or hanging from a gibbet for his scenes of vicious murder. (Go rent the video of Titus to check out the gore index of that play.)

      A conclusion should have a moral or overview of significance, but I don’t see any quick solution to the problem of a society that produces campus-chaotics, Unabombers, and Oklahoma City bombers. They are not a majority of what we are; we don’t have contingents who want to make martyrs of these losers. However, they do cause us to re-examine the perspective of Dogpatch’s Mammy Yokum:  “Good is better than evil because it’s nicer.”




Kummba at the Karpeles Kuumba Festival Programs


As part of the 20th annual Kuumba African/American Cultural Arts and Music Fest there will be two programs at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum on May 26, 2007. The address of the Karpeles Museum is 101 W. 1st Street (at the corner of 1st Street and Laura Street, behind Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, near the downtown campus of FCCJ).

The first program will feature Mrs. Mary Fears, a professional storyteller, genealogist and author (Civil War and Living History Reenacting about People of Color. The theme of the program is “How People of Color” Both Slave and Free, Served in the Civil War” and will include a display of Civil War clothing with the telling of Civil War stories.

Children and adults are encouraged to attend Mrs. Fears’ presentation that will begin at 10:00 am. This program is sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council.

The second program will consist of a reading by poet Rize Cole (originally Roselyn Williams from Rawlings, Virginia). Rize is currently living in St. Augustine. A former Social Work Consultant, she has reinvented herself as a writer and a poet.

Her poetry is a continuation of the oral tradition that played a very important role in her early years. She has become an internationally known poet and has read her poetry in South America, the Caribbean and throughout the U.S. Her award winning poetry can be found in numerous literary publications and anthologies including the internet. In November 0f 2006 she received a first place award for “SPIRIT VOICES RIZING” as Best Spoken Word CD by POW (Promoting Outstanding Writers), a Jacksonville based organization with chapters in St. Augustine and across the country. Rize Cole is also author of a chapbook, “Voices Rizing.”

This program will appeal to poets and other writers as well, as those who appreciate poetry. Ms. Cole’s reading will begin at noon.

Mrs. Fears and Ms. Cole will have their books, etc. available for sale.

Both programs are free and open to the public. Space is limited. Therefore, those who plan to attend are encouraged to R.S.V.P. or to direct inquiries to Carolyn Williams at phone: 620-1866 or email:



Just in time for summer reading, 18 regional authors bring their latest books to the Ponte Vedra Branch Library on Friday, May 18, for the second annual Ponte Vedra Book Fair. Readers will have their choice of many different genres from science fiction to children’s books, from mysteries to memoirs. The authors represent longtime writers and new authors, three of whom were featured at the recent literary festival, Much Ado About Books.

The Book Fair will be held in the FOL Community Room from 1 to 5 p.m., and is free and open to the public. Readers are invited to meet the authors and have their books autographed. The authors will also appear in panel discussions throughout the afternoon, as well as answer any questions from the audience. In addition, literary agent Susan Graham will be on hand to answer questions.

The Book Fair is presented by the Florida Writers Association (FWA) in cooperation with the Ponte Vedra Library and the Friends of the Ponte Vedra Library.

Many of the 18 authors, along with Ms. Graham, will participate in a one-day writer’s conference the next day, Saturday, May 19, also at the Ponte Vedra Library. The conference is produced by FWA, and is already filled to capacity.

Here’s a list of the participating authors and their books:

·                     Dante Amodeo – SABAN AND THE ANCIENT (Young Adult)

·                     Pat Behnke – TORTOISE STEW (Mystery/Suspense)

·                     Allen Bohl – BACK PORCH SWING (Sports Fiction)

·                     Carol D. O’Dell – MOTHERING MOTHER (Memoir)

·                     Vic DiGenti – WINDRUSHER AND THE CAVE OF THO-HOTH (Adventure/Fantasy)

·                     Connie Donaldson – HEART OF A LION: The Courageous Journey of Janet Lee Simpson (Biography)

·                     Rene’ Fix – INFORMED CONSENT (Legal Thriller)

·                     Robyn Gioia – AMERICA’S FIRST REAL THANKSGIVING (Children’s Non-Fiction)

·                     Ken Gorman – IN HONOR OF JUSTICE (Adventure)

·                     Karen Harvey – DARING DAUGHTERS: St. Augustine’s Feisty Females (Historical Non-Fiction)

·                     Mary Kohnke – SHE SAID WHAT? (Mystery)

·                     Jewel Kutzer – MAYBERRY MOMMA’S FOOD FOR THE SOUL AND BODY (Cookbook/Humor)

·                     Rita Malie – GOODBYE AMERICA (Middle Grade Memoir)

·                     Sandra McDonald – THE OUTBACK STARS (Science Fiction)

·                     Jim Morgan – REDISTRIBUTE VALUES NOT WEALTH (Inspirational)

·                     Nancy Murray – GULLAH, THE NAWLEANS CAT MEETS KATRINA (Children’s)

·                     Hank & Jan Racer – MARKEY, THE BARKING BULLFROG (Children’s)

·                     Terri Ridgell – FRACTURED SOULS (Romance/Suspense)


The author panels are scheduled for these times:


1:45 – 2:10 p.m. – NON-FICTION: Carol O’Dell, Jewel Kutzer, Karen Harvey, Jim Morgan, Connie Donaldson

2:25 – 2:50 p.m. – FICTION GENERAL (YA, Historical, Sports, SF) Vic DiGenti, Dante Amodeo, Al Bohl, Sandra McDonald

3:05 – 3:30 p.m. – MYSTERY/SUSPENSE: Terri Ridgell, René Fix, Mary Kohnke, Ken Gorman, Pat Behnke

3:45 – 4:10 p.m. – CHILDREN & MIDDLE GRADE: Hank & Jan Racer, Robyn Gioia, Nancy Murray, Rita Malie

4:25 – 4:50 p.m. – Susan Graham, agent


For information, call FWA Regional Director Vic DiGenti at 904-285-2258.



Quote from a Writer’s Quill

Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.

--Don Marquis


Writers born in May

1--Joseph Addison (1672), Joseph Heller (1923), Terry Southern (1924), and Bobbie Ann Masons (1940); 3--Niccol Machiavelli (1469) and William Inge (1913); 4--Lincoln Kirstein (1907), Heloise (1919), and Graham Swift (1949);

5--Karl Marx (1828), Robert Browning (1812), Thomas Edward Brown (1830), Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane) (1867), and Richard Eberhart (1904); 6--Sigmund Freud (1856), Orson Welles (1915); 7--Dániel Berzsenyi (1776), José Valentim Fialho de Almeida (1857), Archibald MacLeish (1892), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927), Angela Carter (1940), and Peter Carey (1943); 8--Henry Baker (1698), Thomas B. Costain (1885), Gary Snyder (1930), and Thomas Pynchon (1937); 9--James M. Barrie (1860) and Austin Clarke (1896);

10--Ivan Cankar (1876); 11--Henry Cuyler Bunner (1855), Irving Berlin (1888), and Stanley Elkin (1930); 12--Andrei Voznesensky (1933); 13--Daphne DuMaurier (1907), Bruce Chatwin (1940), Armistead Maupin (1944); 14--Sir Hall Caine (1853) and George Lucas (1944);

15--Melchiorre Cesarotti (1730), L. Frank Baum (1856), Edwin Muir (1887), Katherine Anne Porter (1890), and Max Frisch (1911); 16--Randall Jarrell (1914) and Adrienne Rich (1929); 17--Henri Barbusse (1873); 19--Lorraine Hansberry (1930);

20--Honoré de Balzac (1799), Sigrid Undset (1882), Margery Allingham (1904); 21--Alexander Pope (1688) and Robert Creeley (1926); 22--Arthur Conan Doyle (1859) and Peter Mathiessen (1927); 23--John Bartram (1699) and Theodore Roethke (1907); 24--William Trevor (1928) and Bob Dylan (1941);

25--John Stuart Mill (1713), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803), Jocob Christoph Burckhardt (1818), Jean Richard Bloch (1884), Robert Ludlum (1927), John Gregory Dunne (1932), and Raymond Carver (1938); 27--Arnold Bennett (1867), Max Brod (1884), Dashiell Hammett (1894), John Cheever (1912), Herman Wouk (1915), Tony Hillerman (1925), John Barth (1930), Harlan Ellison (1934); 28--Ian Fleming (1908), Patrick White (1912), and Walker Percy (1916); 29--Patrick Henry (1736), G. K. Chesterton (1874), Max Brand (1892), and André Brink (1935);

30--Alfred Austin (1835), Cornelia Otis Skinner (1901), and Countee Cullen (1903); 31--Georg Herwegh (1817), Walt Whitman (1819) and Norman Vincent Peale (1898).



When you attend a meeting of the North Florida Writers, you eventually discover that NO ONE has ever died while his or her manuscript was being read and critiqued. You may be ready to face the ordeal yourself. . .or, reading this, you may wonder what exactly takes place during a critiquing.

First, you pitch your manuscript into a stack with others' works-in-progress. Then one of the NFW members hands out each piece to volunteer readers, taking care NOT to give you back your own manuscript to read.

Second, as the reading begins, each author is instructed NOT to identify himself or herself and especially NOT to explain or defend the work. The writer may never have heard the piece read aloud by another's voice, so the writer needs to focus on the sound of his or her sentences.

Third, at the finish of each selection, the NFW members try to offer constructive advice about how to make the story better. If a section was confusing or boring, that information may be helpful to the author.

The NFW will listen to 10 pages (double-spaced) of prose (usually a short story or a chapter).



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