Friday, July 18, 2014

Poetry and the Possum Queen

A week ago, Gov. Pat McCrory named Valerie Macon, a local poet, to be next Poet Laureate for North Carolina. Yesterday, Ms. Macon resigned from the position. In between, a lot of people have criticized the governor for not following a well-established procedure the choosing a Poet Laureate. Some of those people--and others--have assumed that Ms. Macon is not worthy or qualified. In the INDY WEEK published on July 16, 2014, Lisa Sorg lampooned the whole think with a parody of one of Ms. Macon's poems. And she did it with snark clearly directed at the poet.

I have read the two poems that local papers have chosen to print. How did they choose those two? How many of the people who have seen fit to make Ms. Macon look foolish and lesser-than have read all of her work? Do we actually know if she is able to take poetry to the people in North Carolina? Is she able to talk about her work, her experience, what poetry means to her, and to encourage people who may never have imagined themselves or their lives as being worthy of poetry? We will never know.

Me, I'm a process person. I wish the governor had just stuck with the process. By not doing so, he shows disregard for the arts and artists and people whose lives are made better by them, and he certainly did Ms. Macon no favors. But if conversation and dialog and sharing of ideas is a good thing--he's accidentally done a good thing.

I love the company of other writers. I love the sense of community we find when we get together. I need the shop talk, the commiseration, and the celebration with people who understand what I do as only other writers can. It was the same when I was a stock broker; not even my husband, family, and friends could really get it the way a colleague could. I'll bet it's the same in every profession and on every job-site.

There is a negative side to all that camaraderie, though, and it's the sense that we get to decide who we invite into our circle. It takes an MFA, or a certain body of work, or a prestigious teaching position, or some je ne se quoi but we know it when we see it, and you ain't got it attitude.

I am really sorry to see that side of the writers community exposed in the last week. Anyone who has used the word "elite" with no irony in the discussion needs to have his or her literary mouth washed out with soap. You've played into the anti-arts, anti-science, anti-intelligence administration's hand.

I once worked for a wonderful woman, Lillian Lehman. She hired a secretary, a high school graduate whose main achievement in life to that point had been to serve as Possum Queen in her hometown. Lillian hired her because she lacked qualifications and needed a chance (and because Lillian had a huge heart). What I'd like to see now: the governor goes back to process. The NC Arts Council vets potential laureates, gives all the candidates a thorough review, and nominates a possum queen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Westing Sky

A Westing Sky

Someone slit the mango,
spread the skin across the sky--
this sunset after the storm.

Ten shades of peach,
apricot, persimmon
dark'ning to plum
deep black grape.

On the horizon
the bruised fruit of night.

(copyright Nora Gaskin
March 12, 2014)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Finding Story in Facts

I woke up this morning thinking about someone I once knew. Let's call him Dave. We worked at the same company for quite a few years. Dave was an imposing man, both in size and personality. He presented himself as a man's-man-ladies' man. Golfer, drinker, joker, talker about his exploits; flirter, flatterer, self-reporting player of the field. I had my doubts that he actually liked the company of women. I would say he was sexist, oh and racist, too. It went with the good old boy persona.

Eventually, Dave had a serious illness and had to retire on disability. He began to play bingo regularly. The games were held in a storefront in a rundown shopping plaza. It was hard to imagine the Dave of old in that place. Spending time with people he would have joked about before.

One day he came in the office and told a story about bingo. A young woman he'd met there turned up pregnant and unmarried. Dave was organizing a baby shower for her.

I was so surprised at the changes in Dave. Through his illness, he lost almost every source of personal identity, yet after a long, hard time, he emerged a nicer person. A man who would plan a baby shower for someone he would have sneered at a few years earlier.

Story-telling hinges on change. Without change, it's an anecdote, not a story. It's apt to be boring. But through the changes we see in a character, whether because he or she gains greater self-knowledge or because of the changes in his or her circumstances, we are made to reflect on ourselves. If I had gone through such an illness, suffered those losses, how would I have reacted? Would I have turned inward or would I have sought out a new world, new people, a new identity?

Dave's life could be a novel. It would be a rich and complex book about a complex character. He was transformed by adversity, and that intrigues. Transformation is the root of story. Bingo.

Friday, March 15, 2013

In the Act of Getting Out There!

Thanks to Pam Kelley and her blog,, for helping to get UNTIL PROVEN into the wider world!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


That is the question I am asked at every reading of UNTIL PROVEN: A MYSTERY IN 2 PARTS. Good question.

Since I was 12 years old, the Rinaldi murder and trials have fascinated me. My father was a friend and supporter of Frank Rinaldi when Frank was wrongly accused of killing his wife, Sheila.

I always believed I would write about the murder and the trials one day. I didn't anticipate writing about them twice, once in fiction (UNTIL PROVEN) and once in non-fiction, (TIME OF DEATH). But I have done so, and now I look at the two accounts to see what I can learn about the connections between story, fact, fiction, and how they weave in and out in my life.

When I talk about the 2 books, I tend to stress the differences: characters who were insiders vs. real people who were outsiders; old money vs. little money; power vs. none; a young likable mistaken witness vs. a questionable witness who should have been a suspect.

But it must be the similarities that compelled me to write the two books. If I needed to use one word to describe the ways the two are alike, that word would be elusiveness. Truth is elusive. Facts are elusive. Justice is elusive.

For me, it is TIME OF DEATH that provokes questions, anger, indignation . . . and UNTIL PROVEN that takes the answers as far as they can go. If they can't go as far as we wish they would--well, my friends, let that be the answer.

Please read my books and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


TIME OF DEATH is now for sale as an ebook. (See note, below.) It is the true story of a murder that took place in Chapel Hill in 1963, when I when I was 12 years old. My family became involved because my father was a friend of the man accused of murdering his wife, Frank Rinaldi. Daddy and others stood beside Frank through a long ordeal that--in a second trial--ended with Frank being acquitted. But his life was forever changed. Wouldn't yours be?

In a much different way, my life was as well. At ages 12, 13, 14, I was impressionable. I learned a lot about loyalty to a friend, about the imperfections of the judicial system, and about hope. I wonder sometimes why I didn't become a defense attorney. It might have been a logical extension of the impact the Rinaldi trials had on me. Instead, I became a writer.

I knew for many years that I would eventually write about the Rinaldi case. It came out in fiction in my book, UNTIL PROVEN: A MYSTERY IN 2 PARTS. But UNTIL PROVEN is fiction. Fact was the seed-thought, but from there, my characters took on a life of their own, as fictional characters do for a writer. Their stories followed to logical conclusions that have nothing to do with the facts of Frank Rinaldi's experience.

Even so, I found that I wasn't through with Frank's story. It represented too much of importance to me. Facts may be found in who-what-when-where but the fifth question in that list is why. TIME OF DEATH provides facts as they were understood by people who were there. The district attorney who tried Frank twice had to provide the jury with a why: why would Frank have killed Lucille? Those who believe in Frank's innocence will tell you that the prosecutor had to make up the answers to that question because there no evidence that Frank did what he was accused of. Thus, in a court of law, fact may produce fiction.

For me, the questions why are, why was Frank charged? Why was he tried? Why was he convicted in the first trial? These are unanswerable questions in many ways, but I worked hard to make sense of what happened and why, in the context of the time and place. I strive not for fiction, but for a different kind of fact.

Note: if you have a computer or tablet or smartphone, you can download free software for Kindle, Nook or Kobo and then buy an ebook from Amazon (for Kindle), Barnes & Noble (for Nook), or (for Kobo). TIME OF DEATH is shorter than book-length so it would be a good first e-read for you!

Friday, January 11, 2013

In the Act of Discovering 2013

If you saw my last post, you know that Time of Death is coming soon. The list of things to do is shorter. I've seen the first version of a cover design and that's an exciting thing to me. Makes it realer, somehow, and I'm so glad I have the talented Kelly Lojk to do the design for me.

And I kept my only New Year's Resolution: I sat down on 1-1-13 and began reworking, rewriting and reimagining the mansucript for a novel, STONE SOUP. It is set in a fictional mill town in North Carolina, Black Haw. Black Haw is mostly my mother's hometown, Lindale, Georgia, if it were set on the just a few miles from my house.

If you've read my book, UNTIL PROVEN: A MYSTERY IN 2 PARTS, you may remember that Eden lives in Black Haw in its 21st Century artsy Newer South incarnation. The action of that book is almost all in Piedmont and Piedmont is also a setting for parts of STONE SOUP.

It is fun to create a landscape, complete with towns, rivers, railroads, a university . . . whatever you need! It helps with characters, too, to have a clear vision of where they live and what they see when they look out their windows. It makes me realize how much what I see out of mine shape me. Is it a southern writer thing to be a bit obsessed with landscape? I'm in good company, that's for sure.

By the way, if you haven't read UNTIL PROVEN, can you explain yourself?