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“I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a poem, and be given away by a novel.”

–Keats

Romancing the novel

Black Mountain author Jill Jones is currently promoting her seventh novel, Bloodline (St. Martin’s Press, 2000), a suspense-riddled romance about Jack the Ripper that spans from his days of infamy in the 1800s to the present — not exactly like the more-traditional plotlines that marked her earlier works. But then, Jill Jones hasn’t ever really been about run-of-the-mill romances — a fact which probably contributes significantly to her growing success.

I first met Jones at a reception for North Carolina writers at the governor’s Western Residence, where we were contributing copies of our books to the residence’s library to be (hopefully) enshrined forever. Both of us being what are considered “genre” writers, Jill and I agreed that, labels aside, we still believed our work to be literary.

Jones has been writing since 1987: “Before that,” she noted in a recent interview, “I wrote the ultimate fiction — advertising copy.”

She explains the premise behind her first book, Emily’s Secret (St. Martin’s Press, 1995) as being “based on ‘what if’ Emily Bronte had a secret lover that she later based her character Heathcliff on in … Wuthering Heights? The possibilities of ‘what-if’ involving historical characters really opened my eyes.” (Both Emily’s Secret and its sequel, Essence of My Desire, won awards.)

Jones says that all her books “have historical aspects to them, mostly a historical mystery to go along with the romance, including Bloodline. But the romance in Bloodline is limited. It is really more of a suspense novel than a romance.”

What kind of hours does an in-demand romance-writer keep?

“When I am working on a novel, I try and get to my writing at 9 in the morning and go until around noon, then take a lunch break and go back and write until around 4 p.m.,” she reports. “I look at writing like any other job, where I have to put in a certain amount of time.”

Asked her favorite writer, Jones was loath to name just one, and offered, “I like Daphne du Maurier, and Rosamunde Pilcher is one I very much like. I also like Alice Hoffman and Mary Stewart and Isabel Allende, to name a few.”

To new writers, Jones advises, “Never give up. … Sit your bum in the saddle and do it.”

Jill Jones will teach a course titled “Romancing the Novel” at A-B Tech beginning Tuesday, Sept. 19. For more information, call 254-1921, ext. 369.

Voice of the poets

I wanted to know what made a poem a poem and not something else, so I decided to ask some of Asheville’s leading poets, among them Nancy Dillingham, author of New Ground, a collection of short stories and poems; Thomas Rain Crowe, a former beat poet of the San Francisco generation whose works have recently been acquistioned by Duke University’s Special Collections Library (see Xpress’ Sept. 20 Notepad section for details); and Mendy Knott, a local poet (with several chapbooks and an audiotape to her credit) and host of the Poetry Cafe for Women. Theirs are but three of the many poetic voices in Western North Carolina, but representative nonetheless of our very active scene.

So, what makes a poem? The opinions varied, were complex — as one might expect of such a question — but the poets I spoke with all offered the opinion that a poet’s one obligation was to be true to self, first and foremost. Beyond that, there seemed to be very few rules — and perhaps that is poetry’s appeal to so many. One doesn’t need to study in a classroom for years and years to write a poem; one doesn’t even have to think very hard to write a poem — since many poems seem to be messages straight from the heart to the pen. But this confuses the issue of what makes a poem a poem and not something else — doggerel or worse (verse?). I’m not sure even a poet can tell me the answer.

As a writer of fiction, I know that writing poetry is the hardest form of all writing. Furthermore, what make a poem a poem and not something else is probably a question without a good-enough answer. A poem may be nothing more than a beat of the heart, a breath of wind that blows through all of us, an elusive dream we sometimes get our hands around. And what I really learned was, I probably shouldn’t ask such questions in the first place!

Maybe our old friend F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best: “Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you — like music to the musician … or else it is nothing, an empty, formalised bore around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations.”

Events/announcements

On that note, keep an eye out for the newly published 10 Great Neglected Poets of the 20th Century, a special edition of the Asheville Poetry Review.

Learn about Lorine Niedecker, who lived a life of isolation on Wisconsin’s Black Hawk Island but who, during the 1930s and ’40s, wrote some of the most important poetry in America; Bob Kaufman, who coined the term “beatnik,” was known in France as the Black Rimbaud, and completed a 10-year vow of silence lasting till 1973; plus eight others. (Look for a review of 10 Great Neglected Poets in next month’s column.)

On Sunday, Sept. 10, the Friends of the Fairview Library will host a unique program, “Voices from the Mountains,” featuring Wilma Dykeman and Robert Morgan.

These two native WNC authors, among the country’s most revered, will engage each other and their audience in conversation regarding their Appalachian works and will discuss the people and history of our mountain home. Dykeman is the author of The Tall Women and The French Broad, a history of our region; Morgan’s novel, Gap Creek, spent time on the New York Times bestseller list and was an Oprah selection,

The event begins at 4 p.m. at the Fairview Christian Fellowship Church (behind the Fairview Library) and continues at 5 p.m. with a book-signing and reception at Fairview Public Library.

Tickets are available at Malaprop’s (254-6734), Common Ground Book Outlet (274-0373) and Mountain Harvest (298-9000). Proceeds from tickets ($7.50) will help the library pay for materials and continuing programs.

For more information, call (828) 628-0676 or (828) 628-9588.

Readings/classes

Thursday, Sept. 7, 7 p.m.: A celebration of the release of the 2000 edition of Headwaters, UNCA’s creative arts magazine, will take place at Malaprop’s (55 Haywood St.), with readings by contributors. Call 254-6734 for more information.

Begining Monday, Sept. 18, the following writing classes will be offered at A-B Tech:

• “How To Write and Sell A Novel” (Bill Brooks): This class will teach the writer the elements of constructing a novel and the marketing techniques for selling fiction in today’s market .

• “Creative Writing” (Bill Brooks): This class covers techniques in writing short and long fiction, including character development, plot, dialogue, conflict and resolution .

• “Romancing the Novel” (Jill Jones): A complete how-to in writing and selling the romance novel, from an award-winning author.

• “Creative Non-Fiction” (Marie Maher): Teaches the needed techniques to write and sell magazine articles, essays and all forms of creative non-fiction writing.

• “Turning Family History into Historical Fiction” (Charles Price): Award-winning author teaches the techniques for researching and creating fictional drama based on personal and historical accounts of family archives, letters and memoirs.

For more information, call A-B Tech at 254-1921, ext. 369 or 134.

The Great Smokies Writing Program will offer a series of 10-week workshops in poetry and prose beginning Monday, Sept. 18, including “Beyond the Garden Wall: The Many Ways to Write about Nature” (Peter Loewer); “Writing Toward a Still Moment: An Introduction to Poetry” (Nancy Dillingham); “Exiles, Rebels and Renegades: Advanced Poetry Workshop” (A. Van Jordan); “Hanging In There: An Advanced Fiction Writing Workshop” (Tommy Hays); and “Something Happens: The Craft of Short Fiction” (Dale Neal).

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