In 1983 I wrote my senior undergraduate thesis comparing and contrasting the life and works of two great writers I’ve long admired–Franz Kafka and Flannery O’Connor. Both authors’ works are unusual to say the least. Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” begins with a man finding that he has been transformed into a giant insect; Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” ends with a corrupt bible salesman seducing a strange young woman named Joy-Hulga and stealing her artificial leg.
Many question why a devoutly religious woman from Georgia would write stories with such unusual, grotesque characters and such unsettling, even shocking, plots. One person wrote O’Connor and asked her why she wrote the way she did. Her answer still speaks to me:
“To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”
CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is my attempt to follow in the footsteps of O’Connor. It gives voice to my concerns about what is happening to higher education in this country. It is not intended to be my reality, but it is representative of a reality as I see it.
And lament it.
No, the campus in my novel is not representative of the campus where I work or any campus where I have ever worked or studied. The characters, even the human ones, are not descriptive of any person I have ever met. They are symbols only, but they serve my point and they speak for me.
They give me a voice again.
And it’s kind of a funny voice, I think.
The newest episode, that you can access at this link, introduces the fairy godteachers Belinda McBride and Brian Teasdale and features a song with music written and performed by Curtis McCarley, my good friend, former student, and composer for our play A Carolina Story. I had fun singing backup.
Another episode of CAMPUS is now available!! Click here to access all six episodes!
I wasn’t sure I was going to get out a new episode this week. I got kind of discouraged, feeling kind of down about the music part of this crazy podel project I’m doing. I have visions of what I want it to sound like, but I don’t have the musical ability or technological skills to make it happen, so Sunday, my normal day to publish a new episode, I just sort of gave up.
But yesterday, I had required conferences with some of my students. One young man who wants to be a nurse talked about taking difficult classes like anatomy and physiology along with two English classes AND working AND keeping his girlfriend’s children on track with online school work while she is at work. Another student works at a nearby hospital. She was tired because she had just gotten home, while her husband was leaving to go to work; he works at a hospital, too–2nd shift. She told me how she had Covid-19 a couple of months ago. She just received her second vaccine and the side effects have hit her hard. She had been told that might happen. You know, she still has gotten her work in on time and makes it to every online session that she can. Neither student has complained or offered excuses. They just keep on going.
I listened and felt ashamed. If they can persevere, then so can I. That’s why, after work, I went back to the drawing board and finished it. It’s not what I envisioned, but it’s from my heart–a heart that is thankful for the opportunity to teach these amazing people I call my students. This episode is dedicated to them.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! Another episode of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is live on Spotify NOW!! And it includes, in true Valentine’s Day form, a love story!! Click here to access CAMPUS.
I am especially excited this week because I think this is my best episode ever! First of all, my daughter Hannah, who is a recent graduate of UNC-Asheville, earning her second degree, a BS in Music Technology, arranged, recorded, and performed Gabhaim Molta Brighde in Irish Gaelic for this week’s episode. Her BA was in Music with a Voice Concentration from Converse College’s Petrie School of Music. The value of her education, one in classic music and the other in advanced music technologies is truly apparent in her recording. I know what you’re thinking, but a mother gets to brag on her daughter on Valentine’s Day, and every other day, too, for that matter. Oh, by the way, she has a job IN MUSIC during a pandemic (not teaching), doing what she loves and was trained for. How do you like them apples?
I’m also hyped because it has been so much fun playing around with the technology that is making this dream of mine come true. This week, with the help of Audacity: free, open source, cross platform, audio software, I was able to record two songs and alter my soprano voice to sound first like a tenor and then a bass. It is a little freaky but totally cool. The second thing I did was download the sound effect of a shower running from freesound.org and add it to one of my recordings. I also laid down background music provided by Anchor, which calls itself the “easiest way to make a podcast,” and I believe it. Anchor is provided by streaming music giant Spotify as an open source podcasting platform. All of my episodes are published immediately on Anchor and Spotify as well as numerous other podcasting databases very easily and at no cost to me.
CAMPUS is my passion project, and I am doing it for fun, but I can also see all sorts of educational applications of the open source technology I am learning to use. I hope you will listen and tell others about my podel (That’s my word for podcasted novel.)
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the other ongoing project I love, my literary journal Teach. Write. I have already accepted some incredible poetry and flash fiction for this issue, but there is still time to submit for the spring/summer 2021 edition. Submissions close on March 1, and the journal will be published on April 1. See the link above for submission guidelines.
About about ten years ago, sitting next to my husband on a trip returning from a visit to see his family in Pennsylvania, I came up with a crazy, crazy idea for a play. It would be a social satire set on the campus of a school in Western North Carolina, but it wouldn’t be your typical campus, oh no. This one would have your typical students and faculty with typical failures and successes, typical red tape binding them all; however, although some would be humans, others would not.
My campus, I thought as we rode along, would have fairy godteachers and gnomes, elves and trolls. There would be creatures of Appalachian lore, including devil dogs, moon-eyed people, and boojums (kind of like Sasquatch). My play would be a musical, and on that trip, I wrote the lyrics to several songs, including “The Enchanted Campus,” which is sung, sort of, as part of this week’s episode.
But the musical was not to be. The reasons are too numerous to bore you with here, but I couldn’t shake this idea and wanted to do something with CAMPUS. I just didn’t know what. Then, November 1 of 2019, I impulsively decided that I wanted to participate in NANOWRIMO, National Novel Writing Month. You can find out more about it here. I had worked on other novels and successfully written over 50,000 words in a month and wanted to try again.
Yes, I know. I teach English at a community college, and I wrote over 50,000 words in a month WITHOUT short-changing my students. Amazing what a writer can do when motivated.
But I didn’t have a project idea in mind. That’s when I thought–CAMPUS–Why don’t I turn it into a novel and see what happens? So that’s what I did and at the end of November 2019, I had over 50,000 words of my newest novel attempt, attempt being the operative word. However, the novel wasn’t finished, but I had plans to finish it in the coming months.
Then, in March, the pandemic hit, and I could not have worked on the novel even if I tried. My students’ needs had to come first, and their needs were many. With all my classes moving to online and many students disliking, loathing might be a better word, online learning, I had to spend my free time grading essays, writing emails, sending messages, and holding conferences. I took a couple of weeks off in May after classes were over. I started reading more, writing on my blog, and taking better care of my health. But I was restless.
It was then that I decided to start work on the novel again, but I knew to finish it by summer’s end, I would need to write every day. And I did, recording my word count on one of those free yearly planners we all get so many of in the mail. By the time classes began in the Fall of 2020, I had a rough draft.
Considering how incredibly strange my novel project is, I didn’t see it getting a traditional publisher, so I started thinking of how I could share my writing with the world through some other means. My daughter had introduced me to the podcast, Welcome to Nightvale, several years before, and we had enjoyed listening to the quirky tales of life in the strange town of Nightvale. The producers of Nightvale have put out several Nightvale novels. I also thought how much I love acting and working with Curtis to write music.
That’s it, I thought! Why don’t I turn things around and turn my novel into a podcast that has musical elements? I even made up a a word for it–Podel. It means podcasted novel.
I shared my idea with the people who get me the most, my husband and daughter. I also shared it with my friend and former student Curtis McCarley, who wrote the music for my musical A Carolina Story. Curtis is working on music for future episodes of CAMPUS, you will be happy to know.
Then, for Christmas, guided by the advice of my daughter, a recent music technology graduate, my husband gifted me with a podcasting microphone and headphones–terrific! Then, my daughter gave me a book about podcasting, Podcasting for Dummies, and I discovered this great free app called Anchor that has made podcasting possible, even for a novice like me.
I’m 60. I’m nearing the end of my career as a teacher, a career that has been, at times, like any work of value, incredibly frustrating, but more importantly, it has been immensely satisfying. I have been able to help people be better communicators and better thinkers. I have been able to become a better writer myself and launch another career as a writer and editor, one that goes hand in hand with my teaching. Makes me a better teacher, in fact.
I know my podel is rough. I have already made mistakes and will make many more. But, I ain’t, as they say, getting any younger, and this dream has been deferred too long.
The first episode of my podel (podcasted novel) premieres tomorrow on Spotify at 6:00 pm. Hope you can tune in! Search for CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical but Is Now a Podel by Katie Winkler
I am blessed with special people in my life and one of those people is my nephew Timothy. He is in school studying media arts and has started a blog here on WordPress called the Mugwump Diaries. You can check it out here.
Timothy and I love reading and reviewing books, and for a while now, I have enjoyed reading his reviews on Goodreads, so I am excited that he has started a book review blog. Plus, he has inspired me to get back to my own book reviews.
This Christmas, I received several books that I am looking forward to reading and two Christmas themed books that I just haven’t gotten around to until this year. It just didn’t seem right to read them outside of the Christmas season.
I will write about those last two next post but today, I just want to talk about my gift books and what they mean to me.
Where to begin? Why not at the top? I can’t wait to read In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo, given to me by a dear friend and colleague who knows that I take it as an ultimate compliment that she finds me difficult. In the introduction, Karbo says, “I love these women because they encourage me to own my true nature. They teach me that it’s perfectly okay not to go along to get along. They show by example that we shouldn’t shy away from stating our opinions. Their lives were and are imperfect. They suffered. They made mistakes. But they rarely betrayed their essential natures to keep the peace” (p.17).
Yeah, that’s what I need to read!
That same friend gave me the book immediately below that, Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I haven’t finished it yet as I was distracted by the Christmas books I was determined to read (before it was too late, ha!), but it is another one that gives voice to my feelings, these feelings I have of not being what people expect me to be, that I’m not an easy keeper, as we say in the South. Doyle speaks to women who don’t want to be defined by their roles in society, who don’t want to be defined at all. Difficult women. Troublemakers.
Women like me.
I’m getting back to reading Untamed today!
The book to the right, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a gift from my husband and is proof of what a treasure he is. Out of all the books he could have chosen, he picked a historical novel giving life to Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, who died at eleven, during the Plague. A few years after the death of his son, Shakespeare wrote one of the greatest works of literature the world has ever known. Hamlet. Just like my friend, my husband knows me, knows that I would relish reading a beautiful book that will make me cry. He gets me, even though I’m difficult. And he loves me anyway.
To the left is another special book, Podcasting for Dummies, given to me by my dear daughter, who also advised my husband on what equipment to buy me to help me with my big podcasting challenge of 2021–my podel or povel or novcast or whatever you want to call it–this thing that I’m doing. Her gift book is special to me because it shows that she has faith in me and supports what her mother is doing, no matter how weird it is. And believe me, you will see, it is weird. But she gave me the book because she doesn’t care that her mother does do some strange things and doesn’t do or say all of the things mothers are supposed to do or say, except the most important thing, that is. She does say, “I love you.”
I have written a crazy book called CAMPUS–A Novel That Wants To Be a Musical. Okay, so written might be a bit misleading. I have the first draft of a crazy book.
Here’s the thing–I teach English full-time and online at a community college during a global pandemic. This next semester, I will teach three accelerated composition classes (16-weeks of material in 8-weeks), two 16-week composition support classes (I have only taught them once before; they will again be synchronous online because of the pandemic), and one 16-week British literature course, maybe. I have very little time to do the necessary revision, editing, and, most time-consuming, marketing that it will require. Plus, I have no time to get together with my composer to write the music for the book. You read that correctly–this novel wants to be a musical, so music there will be–one way or another.
Here’s the other thing–I’m 60-years-old, and I’m a darn good writer, in my mind, but I’m not much of a business woman. I don’t know anything about marketing and don’t really trust people who do. I’m not sophisticated or wordly-wise. However, I’m not naive enough to think my book will be published traditionally, especially not with times as they are, and I’m not interested in self-publication, not in book form anyway.
So what’s a busy old teacher to do?
Since my specialty is 19th Century British literature, perhaps it is appropriate that I have decided, like Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Wilkie Collins, to serialize my novel; however, my satirical novel in parts will have a 21st Century twist. It will be a podcast….
Maybe it will be a blog or a vlog or something else entirely. I hope it will eventually be housed within a parody website. Oh, I have ideas, but not much of anything solid yet. All I know is that cutting the project into small bits, like I suggest to my students all the time, will allow me to pour my heart into teaching like I always do, but also make it possible for me to work on revising and editing the novel a little at a time and not wait too long to share it with people. Wait. Will anybody want to read it?
I’m the only one who needs to because within this world that I am going to create, no one gets to tell me what it looks or smells like, what the people in it need to be or think or feel. No one can criticize, ostracize, or minimalize me on this campus.
What happens there will be completely of my making, for good or ill.
Merry Christmas to me!
Note: If you would like to follow me on my little adventure, I hope to air the first chapter of CAMPUS on Sunday, January 10. More details to follow after Christmas.
Starting this new project does not mean that I have abandoned Teach. Write. If you are interested in submitting something, you can read submission guidelines here. The deadline for the Spring/Summer 2021 edition is March 1, 2021.
So don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Okay, enough with the Fleetwood Mac allusions. I’m getting a little bit punchy. It’s been a whirlwind start after a quiet summer without the usual activities. Sad? Yes, in some ways. I miss being with my friends and extended family but also very healing–a time to focus on exercising, cooking, reading, and writing–for myself!!!
I did work a great deal on my classes, taking my knowledge of new technologies and integrating them into my already strong online classes. (No brag, just fact) Our distance learning staff has been doing a lot of course redesign training, and I am trying to put their ideas into practice. So far, students seem to be responding well to the changes.
Speaking of students, I need to get to it, but I will leave you with a link to a great article from Inside Higher Education about the positive side of remote learning and the incredible job some inspired faculty with a passion for education, like the people I am blessed to work with, are doing.
After November’s National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO), I had about 26,000 usable (rough draft usable) words of my new satirical novel about higher education in the South called CAMPUS: The Novel That Wants to Be a Musical.
I am happy to announce that since May 19, I have written 38, 173 more words! I know to some of you out there this is no big deal at all, but to me this is major as I have never before been able to adjust to a daily writing schedule (I do take one floating day off a week, which has helped greatly). I have exceeded my quota each day, which more than makes up for the days off.
I have also participated in craft lectures (via Zoom) by the North Carolina Writers’ Network and the Dramatists Guild of America. All have been useful, but this past weekend I was able to join 11 other writers for an extended workshop with Bryn Chancellor, author of Sycamore, which is now on my reading list. It was the first online Squires Writing Workshop, a program of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.
The emphasis was on the opening of a story or novel. We looked at just the first 1,200 words of the project. To begin with we looked at and shared examples of strong openings. Then, we did some writing exercises and shared. The next session we did another exercise and then had a fascinating and informative lecture about openings. The final three sessions were inspiring and helpful. We had all received each other’s work ahead of time, and all were faithful to read and comment on each person’s manuscript. I got so much out of the critiques, even when my work was not being discussed. It was a wonderful four days, and well worth it.
Look into the North Carolina Writers’ Network–a valuable organization for any North Carolina writer. We have members outside of North Carolina, too, so check it out!! ncwriters.org
And my reading continues–
Here are the goodreads reviews of the latest three:
MOO by Jane Smiley, 1995
***Spoiler Alert*** Perfect timing for me to read this satire about higher education as I work on my own novel with a similar theme. Full disclosure: I participated in a writing residency at Brevard College, studying under Jane Smiley, and she was a fabulous instructor, so I am partial to her work since that time. One of the things I like about her work is its variety. I also love her ability to portray the inner life of animals so that we can relate to them yet still see, smell, feel their animal nature. In this book she gifts us with the tragic character of the hog, Earl Butz, whose “job” it is to stuff himself. Oh, my, what a wonderful and compelling character. The most sympathetic of them all, which, I think, is Smiley’s intent.
Smiley seems to have a bucket list approach to writing, wanting to challenge herself, not wanting to repeat the same style. This is certainly a very different book than her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres, and hasn’t been as critically acclaimed, but in some ways I like it better, probably because of the satiric wit, and her ability to meld the tragic with the comic, which is my favorite kind of writing.
Ultimately, the book is comic (the last section begins with a chapter entitled “Deus ex machina”), and ends with a wedding. Ah, I see, I guess I’m a little slow–A Thousand Acres (King Lear)–Shakespearean tragedy; Moo (Ends with a wedding)–Shakespearean comedy.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (2018)
This interesting memoir reads like fiction and at times the story is so bizarre and inconsistent that I think maybe it is fiction. However, I know that memory is a tricky thing, especially if you are the victim of childhood abuse, and I am convinced that Tara Westover certainly was.
I see why Westover named her book Educated, but I think it is more about Emancipation than it is Education, and I found myself wishing that she had spent less time with her highly dysfunctional family and more time with the way her education helped her break away.
I also think she absorbed a great deal more knowledge while she was being homeschooled than she gives herself or her parents for, but I certainly understand the omission.
Satyricon by Petronius (1st Century)
** spoiler alert ** Yes, it is considered to be the first novel. Yes, it gives valuable information about language and culture during the end times of the Roman Empire. Yes, it is satire, but it is also quite depraved. Basically Roman porn. I skipped through much of it because I couldn’t stomach it.
I primarily read it because I heard it was the first time the phrase “silent majority” was used, referring to the dead. I found that reference in Book 2 and skimmed Books 3 and 4 but unfortunately did see references to rape, including child rape (in book one), orgies, and cannibalism among other perversions. Call it classic if you want to. I just say Yuck!
Thanks to the pandemic, this has been a unique summer for me and almost everybody else, but not all bad. My reading continues, I have attended several interesting online seminars, and the work on my novel progresses. I am also making plans for the upcoming semester of teaching.
The big difference is not traveling, which I do greatly miss. I have family and friends in Alabama, Colorado, Virginia, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Germany and elsewhere. I like traveling to visit them, and I also like to explore within my own state, attending meetings for the North Carolina Writers Network and the Dramatists’ Guild of America as well as “adventuring” with my daughter Hannah.
This summer I am at home almost always–weird.
I have developed routines, which is actually a novelty for me–I tend to improvise, but I am doing more of the things that are good for me, including exercising, reading, and writing more than I usually do.
I have been posting about my reading, which I have really ramped up this summer. My friend Joe Perrone, Jr. (check out his blog) asked me to read and review his wife’s debut middle-grade novel, Wolfie: A Cat Beyond Time, which I was glad to do; Becky is my friend, too. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and if you have YA readers in your life, I highly recommend that you purchase it for them, especially if they like cats as much as I do.
Here is the review I posted on Goodreads:
History is best learned through storytelling, and that is why this middle- grade novel would be a good addition to any middle school classroom bookshelf or young readers’ collection. It is part historical fiction, part adventure story, and part fantasy, a compelling combination that balances fact with fiction. The two young protagonists are charming, and Wolfie, the big cat that serves as a catalyst to their adventure, well, he is magnificent. One of the aspects that I like best is the balance the book brings to the history of the Old West. We get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, but infused with enough humor and positivity to be appropriate for the targeted age group. An enjoyable and educational read for any youngster.
I have also been writing. Boy, have I been writing–30,000 words since May 19. I have never written almost every single day, but this summer I have. The two secrets for me have been determining how many words a day, approximately, I need to write to have a rough draft of my novel completed by the time school starts in August and then meeting or exceeding my quota each day. So far I have written six days a week and exceeded my goal most days, so I am ahead of the game. I should mention that I started out with 26, 000 words already written from November’s National Novel Writing Month. ( I wrote 50,000 but only half were usable.)
Of course, a first rough draft is a long way from finished novel, but I feel encouraged because I have wanted to finish a novel for four summers now but haven’t met my goal. I am determined to this year.
I am also busy attending webinars, submitting short stories to journals, and preparing for my classes in the fall, but I will save thoughts about those activities for future posts.
So come back and check them out!!!!
Are you writing this summer, too? Do you have a poem, essay, flash fiction, short story, or short drama you would like to share? Why not submit to Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal?