Writers Gather for 10th Regional Conference

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Yours truly and Kim Leigh Martin on the blogging panel on opening night.

This past weekend was the 10th edition of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University. I have been to most of them. Dan Smith is stepping down as director, but, as he told me in an email, he will still be on the scene when we gather at future conferences. That is good news.

Dan Smith.
Dan Smith.

Dan was honored on opening night for his vision and leadership. There wouldn’t be a Roanoke Regional Writers Conference without Dan. He felt the love. It even brought a tear to his eye.

“Dammit,” he said. The words got stuck in his throat.

The highly capable and affable Liz Long will take the reins from Dan.

Following are some of my notes and highlights from the conference.

In her class about how to make editors happy, Carol Alexander, editor of Shenandoah Living, encouraged careful listening in 2017–listening to clients (editors), to readers and to sources. She said, “Be a servant, not a diva.” She also said to expect corrections and make them cheerfully.

Author Rod Belcher had great anecdotes and tips during his session on science fiction and fantasy. “The biggest career skill is tenacity,” Rod said.

Cara Ellen Modisett led a class on travel writing and essays. “Chattanooga is travel for Chicago,” Cara said. She encouraged us to write about our hometowns. Personal writing (memoir and essay) is reporting on yourself. It’s a document of the individual mind at work and play.

Roland Lazenby had a slew of personal stories and observations during his session about not violating the trust of sources. “The deeper you dig,” Roland said, “the more you get to a truly human story.”

I also enjoyed sessions with Terry Maggert and Diane Fanning, and was sorry to miss others. Finally, I always love the conversations in the lobby and the hallways and at lunch, renewing acquaintances and making new ones.

I can’t wait until next year.

My Mail Goes to Greensboro

(My mail commentary appeared in the Roanoke Times last month.)

Mardi Gras revelers trek to New Orleans, cliff swallows return to San Juan Capistrano and my mail goes to Greensboro. By way of Roanoke. From my post office in Floyd (Virginia). That’s two cities and two states to send a letter within one town of 450 people that’s less than a square mile in area.

This doesn’t pose a significant problem, but it does make me grin. My mail might travel farther than some of those wintering birds, for all I know. I could probably deliver it myself, on foot, in 15 minutes.

I think about this as the holiday season commences and my local post office on East Main Street faces that annual avalanche of cards, letters and packages. There’s Wanda and Jack at the counter and the rest of the dependable personnel who provide mail service to my town and county. They’re helpful and steady. They don’t crack under seasonal pressure.

When I send a Christmas card to a friend in town, it will be put on a truck to Roanoke, and then put on what I expect is a bigger truck to Greensboro. The card will come back the same way, a round trip of about 270 miles. And then it will be delivered to a mail box less than a mile from where it started.

This isn’t new. The mail headed to Greensboro beginning in 2015 when the Rutherford Avenue processing center in Roanoke was consolidated with operations in North Carolina’s third-largest city. At that time, the Roanoke facility was one of 82 mail-processing centers in 37 states targeted for consolidation.

The Greensboro plan was designed to save money. The U.S. Postal Service saw a 25 percent decrease in mail volume since 2007. Annual revenue had dropped by $10 billion. Drastic measures were needed.

What makes smart business sense is odd for the customer, though. I’m still not used to seeing that Greensboro postmark on my mail.

This A to B via C and D routing would not work well for other things. For example, if a friend asked me to give him a ride in town, he would not appreciate a side trip to Roanoke, Greensboro, Roanoke and then to his destination in Floyd. That would be far too lengthy and flat out ridiculous.

The truth is, as long as I’ve lived here, my mail has gone to Roanoke. Yet I never gave it much thought. Shoot, I go to Roanoke. A lot of people in Floyd go to Roanoke, for one reason or another. It can be a regular trip.

But Greensboro? Not only is it two hours away, it’s in another state.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Greensboro. It’s a hospitable city. I’ve eaten good barbecue there. Obviously, my mail spends time there. I also want to stress that I appreciate the USPS. I value its long history and am amused by its personality and delivery quirks. I still depend on the mail.

So, during these holidays, with good cheer, I’ll bid farewell to cards mailed to folks in my little town. “Have a nice trip to the big cities. Hurry back! We’ll be waiting for you right here, in Floyd.”

A Thank You to My 2016 Clients

Many thanks to these clients and people who worked with me this year.

In alphabetical order:

Clearwater Paper (via Digital Kitchen)
Cornell University Law School (Kristen Burke)
Digital Kitchen (Karen Weber-Millstein and Angela Wittman)
Gorton Community Center (Heather Chamberlain)
Heritage University (David Wise)
Leisure Media 360 (Kurt Rheinheimer)
Oster Golf Houses (Rick Oster)
Puget Sound Bank (Brad Ogura)
RJD Creative (Bob Diercksmeier)
Roanoke Times
TKA (Thomas Koontz Architects)

Sagebiel Thanksgiving 2016

Our Thanksgiving, as described and photographed by Beth Sagebiel (my daughter).

El Sage Blog

My family began the tradition a couple of years ago of celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. It started out of logistical necessity – my grandparents used to live in California so we’d often fly out on Christmas Day to see them – but continued out of our growing appreciation for having the actual holiday to relax, do nothing, and enjoy our new presents.

This year we decided to apply the same principle to our Thanksgiving celebrations. So while all of you are undoubtedly fasting and putting on your most comfortable pair of jeans, the Sagebiels are sitting around the kitchen table eating Sally’s famous homemade cinnamon rolls and trying to recover from last night’s culinary event. (Actually, it’s just me eating. My dad is running, my mom’s doing dishes, and my sister is vegan.)

IMG_1699.JPG These are the cinnamon rolls. Seriously, how am I the only one eating these right now?

And don’t…

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‘SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT’ By Roland Lazenby

8f35161680f5fe05cb87208bebf2964dOctober 25 was the publication day for SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT (Little Brown and Company) by Roland Lazenby, the bestselling author of MICHAEL JORDAN: THE LIFE and numerous other basketball and sports books.

“With the publication of SHOWBOAT: THE LIFE OF KOBE BRYANT, it is high time we recognized author Roland Lazenby for what he has become: the finest sports biographer of our time,” said Peter Golenbock, author of 10 New York Times bestsellers. “First with the astonishing MICHAEL JORDAN: THE LIFE and now his having written an incredibly researched, beautifully written biography of this enigmatic Laker superstar, Lazenby has entered rarified air: one is wowed by what one learns and at the same time you can’t wait to read what comes next.”

That’s the highest praise from someone who knows the genre and the craft. And other stellar reviews are rolling in.

I’ve read Roland’s biographies of Michael Jordan and Jerry West. They’re excellent. As I’ve said before, Roland digs, reports and provides rich context and revelations about these complex sports icons, weaving it all together in a page-turning narrative. What more can I say?

I’m very much looking forward to reading SHOWBOAT.

In addition, I know Roland as someone in our region who is wonderfully generous when it comes to mentoring and encouraging writers and authors. I’ve seen and experienced it firsthand. We are lucky to have him.

‘TRUEVINE’ By Beth Macy

28962954-_uy400_ss400_October 18 was the publication day for TRUEVINE: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South (Little, Brown and Company), which is the second book by New York Times-bestselling author Beth Macy of Roanoke.

Anyone who lives in southwest Virginia and has been even a casual reader of The Roanoke Times through the years is surely familiar with Beth’s exceptional work as a journalist and storyteller who, as her biography says, gives voice to outsiders and underdogs.

Two years ago she made her authorial debut with FACTORY MAN, which was a sensation. I expect a similar reception for TRUEVINE, “the true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back,” says the publisher.

“It’s a story about race, greed and the circus,” writes Beth at her website, “and I’ve been chasing it for more than 25 years. I’m thrilled to say it was just short-listed for a Kirkus Prize in nonfiction, and long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence, a project of the American Library Association.”

I’m not surprised one bit. Based on what I’ve seen, no one chases, researches and writes a true story quite like Beth Macy.

VIDEO: ‘The Giant Awakens’

The giant is back. The mission is unchanged. Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you.

Recently, Adweek reported:

You may be forgiven for thinking the Giant had retired as he hasn’t appeared on TV screens in recent years. But a new campaign launched this month by Deutsch will explain where he’s been—and why he picked now as an ideal time to make his comeback.

This teaser-style launch film, which will (appropriately) air in movie theaters around the country, doesn’t include any shots of the Giant himself. But it leaves no doubt that he is back and bigger than ever.

Finally, I encourage you to check out my ebook, HO! HO! HO!: The Life and Legend of the Jolly Green Giant (at right). It’s a fun read. It may be good for you.