Finding Sanctuary Cover Reveal

Reposted from Field Order Press.com

My debut novel, Finding Sanctuary, started out as a writing assignment for grad school. What later became my first chapter was a hastily written draft that I snatched off the printer minutes before I had to make the commute to DC for class. I didn’t give much thought to my characters or the setting I placed them in, let alone the tone or cadence of my writing. The following week, my professor handed back my writing assignment and asked to see me after class. I just knew she was going to tell me that my assignment was garbage, and that I would have to redo it.

I was wrong.

“Your characters and this scene are so vivid,” my professor said. “I was reading this wanting more.” (You could have bought me for a penny.) “This is your thesis,” she told me. I couldn’t fathom it. I was barely halfway through the master’s program at Johns Hopkins University, and my thesis was the furthest thing from my mind.

I left class that night imagining the possibilities for the characters and world I hastily created. Eventually, Finding Sanctuary sprang to life. It wasn’t instant. It took time to cultivate the essence of the story, but when I finally hit that writing sweet spot, I could see everything — from the beginning to the end of the story and all that was in between — so clearly.

Well, almost everything.

Envisioning what I wanted the cover of Finding Sanctuary to look like was much more difficult than I thought it would be. I bounced around some ideas with CP Patrick and the Field Order Press team, grateful that they gave me the latitude to come up with ideas. “It’s your book baby,” CP Patrick told me in one of our many phone conversations. “Take your time. Have fun with the process. You’ll know your cover when you see it.”

I tossed around a couple of ideas, but I was fixated on having some sort of artistic rendering of the distinctive row homes in South Baltimore, where much of Finding Sanctuary takes place. When we had our first concept call with Molaundo Jones of The Clever Agency, I mentioned a couple of ideas, one of them being a map of historic South Baltimore. I also considered the mid-Atlantic region as the story spans between Virginia and Maryland.

Molaundo was very thorough and patient during our concept call, listening to me as I vacillated between row homes and maps. It took CP nudging me before I even mentioned the third idea I had. Since Finding Sanctuary tells the story of three generations of women, I thought that could be a concept to consider for an alternate cover image, albeit far-fetched.

When Molaundo sent the renderings of the cover concepts we pitched, the concept I thought had the least potential was the one that took my breath away. As CP had told me – I’d know my cover when I saw it. And I did. Silhouettes of the three different generations of women, each a different shade of brown against an endless blue background — that was the cover I wanted for Finding Sanctuary. I couldn’t stop staring at it. These characters that I didn’t give much thought to in the beginning seemed to come to life in the drawing. Especially Ella, the woman holding the baby. The women that I birthed on the page and introduced to Molaundo only by way of synopsis, were exactly as I had envisioned them. Molaundo and his team even nailed it with the positioning of the women on the cover. Where and how the two women stand bears significance readers will understand when they read Finding Sanctuary.

Seeing the cover of Finding Sanctuary was a very surreal, emotional moment that marked an important milestone in this journey. It’s humbling to have a team of talented people who are so invested in my story. I’m ever so grateful to CP Patrick and Molaundo for shepherding me through the cover design process. I couldn’t be more proud of the finished product.

Finding Sanctuary will debut this fall. I hope readers will love the cover and novel as much as I do!

“The Four Jesuses” Debuting at the DC Black Theatre Festival!

I am happy, proud and excited to announce that my new play, “The Four Jesuses”, will be debuting at the 2015 DC Black Theatre Festival on Sunday, June 21st! “The Four Jesuses” is a part of the DCBTF’s New Works Reading Series. Stay tuned for more details…

The Four Jesuses flier
“The Four Jesuses”, a two-act play, will be debuting at the 2015 DC Black Theatre Festival

Writing Outside the Fence Seeks Volunteer Instructors for Fall & Winter Workshops!

Writing Outside the Fence seeks qualified, committed volunteer teachers for Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 workshops. The program offers creative writing workshops for ex-offenders and the extended community through the Reentry Center in Baltimore. We launched in May 2006 and were the cover story in the June 6, 2007 issue of City Paper. In addition, the winners of our Inmate/Ex-Offender Writing Contest were featured in the March 2009 issue of Urbanite. In June 2009 two of our writers were featured on WYPR in Tom Hall’s segment of Maryland Morning. We’ve held readings at  the Enoch Pratt Library the last several summers. A podcast of our 2012 reading is available on the library website.

The program is currently looking for volunteers to commit to a month of weekly meetings — four consecutive meetings total per teacher — for late summer into fall of 2014. The workshop meets Tuesdays, 5-7 PM at the Reentry Center at 2401 Liberty Heights Ave. on the upper level of the Mondawmin Mall in Northwest Baltimore.

Past instructors have been poets and journalists, playwrights and screenwriters, fiction and creative nonfiction writers. They have included instructors from BCCC, Coppin State, Goucher, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, MICA, the University of Baltimore, and elsewhere. No two have run their workshops quite the same way; all have found it rewarding.

If you are interested in volunteering for this worthwhile effort, contact WritingOutside [at] aol [dot] com.

Writing Outside the Fence Seeks Qualified Volunteer Teachers

Writing Outside the Fence seeks qualified, committed volunteer teachers. The program offers creative writing workshops for ex-offenders and the extended community through the Reentry Center in Baltimore. We launched in May 2006 and were the cover story in the June 6, 2007 issue of City Paper. In addition, the winners of our Inmate/Ex-Offender Writing Contest were featured in the March 2009 issue of Urbanite. In June 2009 two of our writers were featured on WYPR in Tom Hall’s segment of Maryland Morning. We’ve held readings at Enoch Pratt the last several summers. A podcast of our 2012 reading is available on the library website.

The program is currently looking for volunteers to commit to a month of weekly meetings — four consecutive meetings total per teacher — for late summer into fall of 2014. The workshop meets Tuesdays, 5-7 PM at the Reentry Center at 2401 Liberty Heights Ave. on the upper level of the Mondawmin Mall in Northwest Baltimore.Past instructors have been poets and journalists, playwrights and screenwriters, fiction and creative nonfiction writers. They have included instructors from BCCC, Coppin State, Goucher, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, MICA, the University of Baltimore, and elsewhere. No two have run their workshops quite the same way; all have found it rewarding.

If you are interested in volunteering for this worthwhile effort, contact WritingOutside [at] aol [dot] com.

Join Me on Tuesdays for Writing Outside the Fence

I know it’s been a while since I’ve last posted, but life happens.

Today, I started another volunteer teaching stint at the Writing Outside the Fence workshop at the Re-Entry Center in Mondawmin Mall. I’ll be there for the next three Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m., leading workshops on writing dialogue, free writing, among other things. The workshop is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the program and its community of fabulous and amazing writers, check out this feature article that ran on Examiner.com or this podcast from the Enoch Pratt Free Library:

Writing Outside the Fence Reading at the Pratt

If you are a writer in the Baltimore area, and are interested in sharing your love of writing, we’d love to have you join our dynamic team of volunteer instructors. Hit me up in the Comments section below.

In Honor of Black History Month…

As an avid reader, I almost always have my nose in a book. Sometimes I’ll be reading more than one book at once, reading a few chapters of one and then switching to the other for a few chapters. Despite my undying love for books, there are not too many books that affect me in such a way that they change my life.

However, The Known World by Edward P. Jones is one of the books that changed my life.

I had been introduced to Jones’s works through the Writing Program at JHU. In one of my fiction writing classes, I read “The Girl Who Raised Pigeons,” a short story from his collection Lost in the City. I aspired to write about Baltimore the way Jones wrote about his native Washington, DC.

It was during the fall of 2009 when I was in a fiction workshop that I got another introduction to Jones. I had submitted my first set of manuscript pages for workshop, and was nervous about the feedback I would get from my classmates and my instructor. I was stunned when my instructor pointed out, almost immediately, that the opening chapters of my historical novel reminded her of the Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Known World. I was floored! At the time, I had heard of the book, but had not yet read it. I ordered the book with the intention of starting it while on Thanksgiving break.

From the first page, the opening paragraph, the first sentence, I was hooked. Jones’s gorgeous prose and compelling characters drew me into a world I never knew existed. Without giving too much of the plot away to those who have yet to read The Known World, this novel is about former slave Henry Townsend who becomes a slave owner in fictional Manchester County, Virginia, and the people on both sides of slavery. There were many sentences, chapters and moments in the book that swept me off my feet and took my breath away. To have my own unpolished writing compared to his was a tremendous compliment, and at the same time quite intimidating.

I started The Known World that Thanksgiving weekend, and finished it a few days before Christmas. The ending was so breathtakingly beautiful that I wept, my tears staining the last pages. Everything in the book made sense and was tied up, but not in a contrived way. It was pure and logical. Intrigued by the man and this book, I scoured the internet for anything I could find. In one interview before he won the Pulitzer, Jones said that he had the book floating in his head for several years. Once he left his job as the editor of a tax newsletter, he wrote the novel (it’s 388 pages in paperback) in three months. However, the ending he already written. He said, in fact, that most of his story endings, he knows and writes ahead of time.

I revisited The Known World several times trying to deconstruct elements of it to learn from the master. The story of The Known World isn’t told in linear fashion. There are several secondary storylines running concurrently with the main one. And there is an omniscient narrator hovering overhead informing the reader of every single detail down to the thoughts of each character. When I started working on my novel, I had an omniscient narrator, too. I was dismayed when my instructor and classmates shot it down. “It cheapens the experience,” my instructor said. “It’s a device used by lazy writers.” Well, Edward P. Jones isn’t lazy. I tried rewriting portions of my novel using a third-person narrator, but there were details that they couldn’t share because there were things they couldn’t know. Only my omniscient narrator – who was about to be laid off by my instructor – would know! I kept plugging away attempting to restructure my novel using the third-person narrator, which stifled me greatly.

Imagine my delight and surprise when my workshop instructor called me a year later to tell me she had invited Edward P. Jones to speak to her class. She asked me if I’d like to sit in. I told her I was already there.

Meeting Jones in person was a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. It is not every day that a reader gets to me his or her favorite author and engage them in a conversation about craft. Armed with his books and a writing journal, I was prepared to ask questions and take notes.

There was so much that I learned from Edward P. Jones on that evening. It affirmed me as a writer to be in his presence and relate to his thoughts and perspective on writing. I strive to tell my story as well as the stories of our people and the culture. Edward P. Jones is a master at that. For Black History Month, I will be re-reading The Known World to commemorate our history, our heritage, our culture and our literature.

“Fiction,” Jones said, “[is] adding wonderful sauce to all of the lies so the reader will be able to swallow.”

That sounds delicious.

The Anatomy of Inspiration

This is a case of art inspiring art.

I know I’m on the tail-end of the Jay-Z/Kanye “Otis” rage. The song has been blaring through car speakers, stereo speakers and MP3 devices for the past few months. At my cousin’s wedding reception back in September, the DJ cued up “Otis” and the crowd went lost their minds.All the young people flocked to the dance floor, moving their bodies to the infectious, driving rhythm of the song. Meanwhile, the older folks sat on the sidelines listening a familiar voice from their past crooning and then being looped while Kanye and Jay-Z rapped at a rapid-fire pace.

In a case of old meets new, the younger generation got introduced to Otis Redding, the soul legend probably best known for “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” who died too soon. The older generation, on the other hand, already knew of Kanye and Jay-Z, both provocative, multi-award winning artists that can be seen or heard on any channel of the TV or radio any given hour of the day.

What comes first? The inspiration or the inspiration? I’m always intrigued by what inspires artists to create their art. In music, I appreciate inventive uses of samples, and in this case, I love what Jay-Z and Kanye did with “Try A Little Tenderness.” Kanye took the driving part of the hook and let it go until Redding got into a guttural groove and then looped it. I thought it was brilliant.

There was a video clip of the audio of the song (that has since been removed from YouTube). The comments from posters were rather interesting, if you ask me. (Please note, the time stamps in the comments below probably do not match up with the video that’s posted above. But you get the gist of what they’re saying.)

  • “2:00 is where Kayne found his treasure……..he took a chunk.
  • 3:263:29 is where the magic happens…..he looped the Hell out of that!
  • Shout out to Def Jam for sending Otis peoples (sic) that Royalty Check!” – BrainFood

Art has been inspiring art for as long as man has been creating. I took a class in grad school examining the history of the short story. It was interesting to learn who inspired whom. We spent much of the semester deconstructing some of early short stories of E.T.A. Hoffman, Heinrich von Kleist, Alexander Pushkin, Ivan Turgenev, Guy de Maupassant and others. We looked at the progression of the short story form and how one author was influenced by a predecessor and so on and so on. Then we were challenged to write pastiches, allowing ourselves to be inspired by one of the many classic short stories we read in class. My most successful pastiche in the class was inspired by Guy de Maupassant’s “Madame Tellier’s Establishment.” I used the framework and some techniques from de Maupassant’s work to create a story that could stand on its own. Some who have read it suggest I should enter it in a literary contest of some sort. I just might do that one of these days.

Who or what has inspired you lately?

poem: the strongest of bodies

the strongest of bodies

i am a river

always moving

ever changing

my waters flow

through dry lands

spawning new growth

Iin desolate places

i am a river

pushing onward

in my own direction

finding another part

of me in each new place

you may try to catch me,

block me, stop me

even capture just

a handful of me

but

you will never

be able to take

all of me

©  Kimberly Williams Shorter, 1996.