Salon: ‘Why Libraries Deserve to Be Hip’

I’m not sure of many things, but I’m pretty sure of this: I would not be a writer if my mom had not dragged me to the downtown library in Evansville, Indiana, when I was a boy.

(Chris Blakeley/Flickr)

Mom turned my older brother and me loose in the stacks in the lower level. That area, the bowels of the place, contained the children’s section. It was a basement, as I remember it, but it wasn’t dreary. There were windows. You could see the feet of people hurrying by on the city sidewalks.

“Get some books,” Mom said before disappearing for a long while.

When she finally returned, I’d have a good-sized stack. Adventure stories. Sports stories. Biographies. My interests were not wide-ranging, but there were more than enough books in the main library for a nine-year-old.

When we got home, my mom made me read the books. (A boy that’s grown into a man will still remember most of the things his parents made him do.) During the summer, there was mandatory reading time for at least one hour in the afternoon. It interrupted play time with my friends. I hated it. I loved it.

The process of going to the library and collecting books repeated itself every week or two.

I thought of my mom when I saw “Why Libraries Deserve to Be Hip” by Mary Elizabeth Williams at Williams reminded me why libraries are such a wonderful community asset.

Here’s a tidbit:

I’m sure someday I’ll get around to getting a Kindle or an iPad, but right now, I’m content with the smell and the texture of paper books, especially the from-the-library kind. I love knowing the book I have for a little while is on a journey through many different hands. I love finding the receipts and the postcards inside them, and imagining who they belonged to. I like the connection. Reading is solitary but libraries are shared.

I’m a member of her choir. Preach it, Sister Mary!

I don’t just think libraries deserve to be hip. I think they are hip. Always have.

Thanks, Mom.


Q&A: Bestselling Author John Coyne (Conclusion)

John Coyne is a seven-time bestselling author who has written more than 25 books of fiction and nonfiction. He is also a friend, someone I had the good fortune to meet after he published a successful golf novel that focused on Ben Hogan. John encouraged me to write my first book. He also helped me get my first literary agent.

This is the second and concluding part of my Q&A with John. Read Part 1.

Bestselling author John Coyne.
Bestselling author John Coyne.

Q: Describe your writing routine or process.

JOHN COYNE: Well, my website (www.johncoynebooks) and my new book How To Write A Novel In 100 Days go into the writing process for any writer, but I’d say for myself the key has always been to do a little writing every day. I try and write about 1000 words each day. Now, they are not finished copy, but once you have something down on paper (or in a computer) you own it and second drafts are a lot easier than just having a blank page.

Q: What is your approach to research?

JOHN COYNE: I research while I write, as I need the information. The wonder of the Internet is that what you need to know is just a click away. Also, I have a rather extensive library of books on topics. For example, I must have 200-plus books on the history of golf. If nothing else, golf has a lot of facts and figures.

Q: How do you prepare for interviews?

JOHN COYNE: If I am talking about my novels, I really don’t prepare. After writing one, I know everything that I need to know about the book. However, if I am going to talk about golf, golf history, a particular tournament or player, then I try and have the facts of the situation close at hand. At my age, just remembering where my car keys are is a daily struggle.

Q: Tell about your work space or where you like to work. What’s on your desk or close by?

JOHN COYNE: I have a small office on the second floor of our home and it is jammed with book shelves and filing cabinets. I have one desk and I operate with two computers. Why two? I have no idea but I just got a new computer and half of the stuff is on the old computer and I’m too lazy (or inept) to coalesce the files.

Q: What has to happen for you to feel like you’ve had a good writing day?

JOHN COYNE: Write one thousand words before noon so that I can play golf in the afternoon.

Q: What do you like to read?

JOHN COYNE: When I was a lot younger, I read novels. Now I tend to read non-fiction. And the truth is, when I’m writing, I just don’t have time to read much between the daily New York Times, New Yorker and New Republic. These magazines seem to find a way to stack themselves up around the house demanding to be read.

Q: Share a tip or word of advice for an aspiring or less-experienced author.

JOHN COYNE: Try to get published, anyway. Write for the local newspaper, send in a letter to the editor. Whatever you can get published. Also, join a local writing group (they are everywhere) as then you can get feedback on what you have written. That’s very important for all of us, however long we have been at the game.

Q: What is your next project?

JOHN COYNE: Breaking par for eighteen and publishing a bestseller. I’ll take either one and be happy.

Q: Any final comments?

JOHN COYNE: The Internet and Print-on-Demand as well as ebooks and various other forms of self-publishing have changed forever the publishing world. I am not sure how the world of books will change but I do know that the world still needs stories to read or watch. Therefore, the world still needs creative writers. So keep writing.

My March Writer’s Retreat at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast

AmbrosiaSign_06There are still a few spots available for my upcoming writer’s retreat at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast in Floyd, Virginia. It begins on Friday evening, March 7 and runs through Sunday morning, March 9. The cost is $120 plus lodging.

Here’s the fancy-pants description:

“Writing and Publishing Your Nonfiction Book”

Author and blogger Neil Sagebiel of Floyd, Virginia, will lead a writer’s retreat on nonfiction book writing and publishing. Neil will cover topics such as story development and research, the book proposal, the writing process, literary agents, publishers, working with editors, and related areas. Participants can discuss and work on a current project and/or simply bring their ideas and questions.

(Once all participants are identified, Neil will email questions related to their background and interests and work to tailor the time accordingly. This retreat will include time to work on a current project and/or other fun writing exercises.)

Neil is the author of THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open, which was published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. THE LONGEST SHOT was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2012 by Booklist and was also praised by the New York Times. His second book will publish in September 2014.

Neil is also a freelance writer and the founder and editor of ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG. Contact him at

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Begins Jan. 24

Neil speaking about book proposals.

The 2014 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference kicks off on Friday evening at Hollins University. On Saturday, more than two dozen Virginia writers and authors will speak and teach classes on a range of topics. This is the seventh edition of the popular writers conference. All except the first one (which had no attendance limit) have sold out.

This will be my third consecutive trip to the conference, a little more than an hour from my home in Floyd. Last year I taught on writing and refining book proposals aimed at major publishers. This year I will be a student, soaking up the teaching, the inspiration and the networking with my regional writing community.

Here’s the lineup of classes on Saturday:

8:30 – 9:30 a.m.

Beth Macy, nonfiction author, journalist
“From Article to Book”

Judy Light Ayyildiz, author
“Oral History/Memoir: Unlocking the Words”

Doug Cumming, Washington & Lee professor, author
“Writing for Magazines”

Dan Casey, journalist, columnist, storyteller
“Telling Stories: The Greyhound Bus, the Swedish Gal, and the Flophouse in Seattle”

9:45 – 10:45 a.m.

Sheri Reynolds, author, writing/literature professor, Old Dominion University
“Dreamwork for Writers: Using Your Dreams to Deepen Your Stories”

Karen Swallow Prior, Liberty University professor, author
“Memories Worthy of Your Memoir”

Bonnie Cranmer, Sarah Beth Jones, small business owners, writers, bloggers
“Channeling Voices: Ghostwriting for Profit”

Rod Belcher, author, freelance journalist
“Getting Your Book to Print With a Major Publisher”

11:00 – noon

Karen Chase, author, graphic designer, business owner
“Doing It Yourself”

Alice de Sturler, cold case consultant and true crime blogger, former college professor
“Using Social Media to Promote Your Writing”

Mary Crockett Hill, author, poet, college professor
“What Makes a Young Adult Novel Work?”

Bill Kovarik, author, Radford University professor
“Who Killed the American Newspaper and Where Do We Go from Here?”

12:15 p.m. 

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Roland Lazenby, author, ESPN Radio executive
“Finding the Story”

Tiffany Trent, author, college professor
“Science Fiction and Fantasy in YA”

Keith Finch, lawyer, Creekmore Law Firm
“Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities”

Keith Ferrell, author, journalist
“Finding the Few Remaining Good Writing Jobs”

2:15 – 3:15 p.m.

Terri Leidich, publisher, author
“Take Charge of Your Marketing No Matter How Your Book is Published”

Rob Jones, photographer, small business owner
“The No BS Guide to Photography for Freelance Writers”

Liz Long, author, social media guru
“Using Social Media”

Cara Ellen Modisett, journalist, author
“The Rebellious Essay”

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Brooke McGlothlin, author
“How To Build a Platform and Market Your Self-Published Book”

Greg Trafidlo, musician
“Writing Funny Song Lyrics”

Carrie Brown, novelist, short-story writer, Hollins professor
“Something Big This Way Comes: Building Dramatic Momentum in Fiction Through the Power of Image”

4:40 – 5:30 p.m.

Panel discussion
“Chasing Down the Right Literary Agent”

Find out more about the speakers/teachers here.

As of a day or two ago, there were still a few spots available.

The conference costs $65 and includes a wine reception, about two dozen classes, coffee, lunch and more. Register online or call 540-556-8510 for more information.

Encouragement for Writers: ‘When Art Goes Public’

Want a generous dose of encouragement as you begin another year of writing? Need to know you’re not alone in the quest for publication and all that brings, including the panorama of emotions?

Amy Jo Burns.

Amy Jo Burns offers a truthful and heartfelt gift.

“Make 2014 the year you found yourself as a writer,” Burns writes in “When Art Goes Public” at the blog of Ploughshares Literary Magazine.

I related to everything she wrote, from the solitary nature of the work to the uncertainty and exposure of going public, “the tricky hand-off between art and money.”

Burns opens:

I like to be alone when I write. When I’m deep into a project, I don’t answer the phone, I don’t respond to emails, and on the most intense days, I don’t even venture outside. Part of what appeals to me about the writer’s life is this partnership with solitude. I crave the intense focus that an empty house and an unfinished project promise. So it came as a surprise when a huge wave of loneliness swept over me while my first book was on submission. Where did it come from?

She answers: “Nothing will make you question all your life choices (and your artistic ones) like submitting your creative work for review.”

Amen to that.

Read Burns and be encouraged, whether you’re a writer, an editor, a publisher, a literary agent, or a wannabe of any stripe.

“You are not alone,” she concludes. “I repeat. You are not alone. May we stand together in our solitude, and in support of our work. Because it’s important. Because art matters. Because we’re not afraid to begin again. Because we aren’t afraid to fail.

“What can we do, aside from writing through our fears?”

‘Leave Your Problems Outside’ in 2014

Steven Pressfield.

In his “Writing Wednesday” message on Christmas Day, author and writer Steven Pressfield opened with an anecdote about studying ballet at the Metropolitan Opera. Miss Margaret Craske, a teacher who danced with Pavlova in the 1920s, told her students:


That’s good advice as we begin a new year. Like a lot of good advice, it can be hard to follow.

Pressfield offered this encouragement:

How will you and I handle our work in 2014?

What’s so great about “Leave your problems outside” is it’s applicable even if we’re only going to have one hour a day to pursue our artistic dreams.

One hour is plenty if we banish all distractions at the doorstep. We enter our workspace, which is sacred space even if it’s only a cubby at the end of our double-wide with a hand-scrawled sign:


One hour is plenty if we focus. It’s plenty if we block out the self-censor and the inner critic. It’s plenty if we play. It’s plenty if we give it our all.

Steven Pressfield is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, The War of Art and several other titles.

My Q&A with ‘Contemporary Authors’

It’s nice when I’m reminded in small but important (to me) ways that I’m a published author.

Not long ago I was contacted by Contemporary Authors, an annual directory (print and online) that lists information about 120,000 writers in all genres. I was informed that I’ll be listed in a future edition.

In addition to checking my listing, they asked me a few questions.

Q. What first got you interested in writing?

A. I liked books growing up. I admired writers and authors, and wanted to be one from a young age but spent a lot of years thinking it was not a viable career option.

Q. Who or what particularly influences your work?

A. As an author, I like nonfiction, history, biography, a good sports story. A few of my favorite authors are Laura Hillenbrand, Rick Bragg and Roland Lazenby.

Q. Describe your writing process.

A. I do my best writing in the morning, spending a half day or so making progress on a manuscript. I try to write a clean, high-quality first draft to cut down on rewriting. My editing process is largely focused on trimming.

Q. What is the most surprising thing you have learned as a writer?

A. That I was able to navigate all the steps needed to be published by a major publisher.

Q. Which of your books is your favorite and why?

A. Only one is published–THE LONGEST SHOT–but another one is on the way, due out from St. Martin’s Press in September 2014 to coincide with the Ryder Cup. Like children, I love them equally.

Q. What kind of effect do you hope your books will have?

A. I’m more than satisfied when readers say it was a good story that was well told.