Author of 'Hiding Ezra,' 'Her Secret Dream: New and Selected Poems', 'Something Solid to Anchor To' and 'The Mad Farmer's Wife'

Rita Quillen’s novel Hiding Ezra is forthcoming in 2014 from Little Creek Books; it was a finalist in the 2005 DANA Awards competition, and a chapter of the novel is included in the new scholarly study of Appalachian dialect just published by the University of Kentucky Press entitled Talking Appalachian.

One of six finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, her poetry received a Pushcart nomination as well as a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. Her most recent collection Her Secret Dream, new and selected poems, is from Wind Press in Kentucky and was named the Outstanding Poetry Book of the Year by the Appalachian Writers Association in 2008.  Previous works are poetry collections October Dusk and Counting The Sums, as well as a book of essays Looking for Native Ground: Contemporary Appalachian Poetry.

 She lives and farms on Early Autumn Farm in Scott County, Virginia.


                                    WORKSHOP:  LIGHTNING ROUND

1.      Borrowed from THE CREATIVE WRITER’S CRAFT (Bailey, et. Al. editors. NTC, 1999)  Choose a person who is very close and familiar to you and evokes some strong feelings. Use this person to create some specific metaphors and similes that explore those strong feelings. Write 10 statements about that person, with the first five as metaphors and the last five as similes, like this:

You are a flute, singing in the night when all lights are out.

You are a dark flower opening only an hour each year.

You are a mouth almost speaking.

Your hair is a dark bird’s wing.

You are the skin on a hand holding a brush painting in small straight strokes the grass in front of a barn.

You are like the egg that fell in the floor and loosened but didn’t break.

You are like silver.

You are like that one dream I have over and over but can’t remember.

You are like cake and ice cream.

You are like Irish linen in Grandmother’s house, folded away in dark drawer.

NEXT STEP:  see what your subconscious has revealed to you about your feelings and perception of the person based on what images or ideas repeat and form into a pattern. THERE lies your poem or story.

2.      Adapted from CREATIVE WRITERS HANDBOOK (Jason and Leftcowitz, Pearson, 2005) --Write an imaginative, creative letter full of imagery and sensory details, to some imaginary person that:

---asks forgiveness for a betrayal, insult, careless behavior or remark, lie, or abandonment.

---admits you have been wrong about something important,

---admits to some kind of very bad behavior, character trait, moral failing, etc.

3.      Find (or think of) a family photograph that has always particularly interested, disturbed, or puzzled you. Perhaps it’s because of strong feelings for someone in the photograph, perhaps it’s because of strange circumstances represented in the photo, perhaps it’s odd body language from someone in the picture, perhaps it’s someone’s expression, perhaps something seems strange and out of place. Write a details description of that photograph and note your reasons, as best you can, for your “obsession” with the photo. THEN—write a short monologue in the voice of the person in the photograph you are most focused on. Let him or her tell you what happened, why, where the circumstances of the photo.

4.      Do a series of short writings where you recall the details and particulars of the first time you realized that your parents and/or grandparents were human beings with human flaws and failings. Perhaps you caught them in a lie or deception, saw them be dishonest with others, saw exhibits of prejudice and bigotry, flouting the law, etc. The purpose here is to bring possibly fiction or poetry to the page with living, breathing, complex characters engaged in a struggle with their own humanness. Remember, you can fictionalize anything:  you can start with a nugget of truth and then manipulate it any way you need.

5.      What is your oldest memory—the first moment, or incident, that you remember from childhood? I remember still sleeping in my crib and explain in the poem from THE MAD FARMER’S WIFE called “First Memory.”          

6.      Write about a child who died when you were a child, whether from natural causes or from some awful accident, describing very vividly the details of the death and /or the experience of going to your first funeral of someone who was young.

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