Skip to main content

A Feast of Days (Part 1)

Image placeholder title

Pictured above: Streets of Oxford

Today's guest post is by emerging writer Darrelyn Saloom, who recently attended the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference, and is offering up a 4-part narrative on the experience.

Darrelyn is a regular guest here at No Rules. Follow her on Twitter or read her previous posts.

--

On a Wednesday in November, Deirdre Gogarty and I flew to Memphis at sunset and landed an hour later in darkness sprinkled with glittering lights. A minivan pulled in front of Delta’s Concourse B. Mike Stanton, photographer and self-described coffee evangelist, hopped out of the driver’s seat and loaded our bags into the back of the rental. Another writer/blogger/conference attendee named Louise Julig perched in the front passenger’s seat.

Mike drove Louise, Deirdre, and me to Oxford, Mississippi, in a vehicle that smelled of a finely, brewed bean. A full thermos and cups waited to be filled with our driver’s special blend. We poured. We drank. We shared stories. And then Mike took us to a tiny market/restaurant around eight o’clock that night. He ordered tacos for us in effortless Spanish. Hungry, we inhaled the best Mexican food I’ve tasted since my childhood in McAllen, Texas.

As homemade tortillas assailed my senses I entered a fictive dream. No longer in the real world but in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or Ellen Gilchrist’s In the Land of Dreamy Dreams. We drove around the center of Oxford called the square, a haven of independent bookstores, restaurants, churches, and courthouse. Our chivalrous driver then unloaded our suitcases at The Inn at Ole Miss and bid us farewell. “You’ll be seeing me around,” he said as he gave us his phone number in case we’d need a ride.

Thursday morning I awoke to blinding sunlight, trees bursting with color, and a hilly landscape that begged to be walked. Deirdre and I trotted down steep steps, passed an old train depot, followed sidewalks to the square. We feasted on books, roasted vegetable sandwiches, and High Point Coffee lattes. We crossed streets as courteous drivers stopped and waited. Everyone yielded: men, women, even students who looked too young to drive.

Later that day we attended Neil White’s pre-conference workshop. The author mapped out his approach to writing his memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. He handed out brochures and posted diagrams of Art & Craft. We connected dots from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron and stared at our lopsided lives. Then we discussed Voice and David Sedaris, Details and Rick Bragg. Neil explained how his original 300,000 words had become 87,000. He brainstormed 150 titles before his intuitive wife pointed the way to the one he would choose.

Just as the sun began to sink and brighten the trees, Deirdre and I rode a red double-decker bus to Off Square Books. We sat near a circular corner stage in fourth-row seats as Jim Dees introduced the house band, the Yalobushwhackers—this was Thacker Mountain Radio, a live broadcast for Rebel Radio 92.1 FM to be re-broadcast Saturday night on Mississippi Public Radio. Here I slipped deeper into my Oxford dream. I held onto my chair as Ian Frazier read from his latest book Travels in Siberia. Would someone please pinch me?

Taylor Hildebrand then sang a few original songs and Lee Gutkind, the “Godfather of Creative Nonfiction,” took the stage and performed as though he were in a play. He entertained with a story from his travel memoirTruckin’ with Sam. His reading evoked laughter as he humorously described physical problems he’d had which also made me worry like a mother or a wife. I’ve never seen an author execute a reading quite like Lee’s. Still in the fictive dream, no one had pinched me.

Image placeholder title

Next, the Bill Perry Trio played keyboard, drums, and bass. (Pictured above: bass player Keith Fondren.) They slid from blues to a funky jazz which transported me closer to home. I had to blink. But when I opened my eyes, I was not leaning on a bar in my hometown in Louisiana or some jewel of a dive in the French Quarter. Instead, I sipped wine in a bookstore on the square in Oxford, Mississippi. I’d been gorging on hors d'oeuvres before the main course arrived.

For the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference did not officially begin until the next day.

Pictured below:Susan Cushman and Kathy Rhodes during Thacker Mountain Radio's live broadcast at Off Square Books. (These two ladies were the force behind the Oxford conference.)

Image placeholder title
Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Physician, cartoonist, and author Shirlene Obuobi discusses the writerly advice that led to writing her new coming-of-age novel, On Rotation.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Kimo Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the kimo.

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

Tattoos and their artists can reveal interesting details about your characters and offer historical context. Here, author June Gervais shares 8 things writers should know about tattoos.

Tyler Moss | Reporting Through Lens of Social Justice

Writing Through the Lens of Social Justice

WD Editor-at-Large Tyler Moss makes the case for reporting on issues of social justice in freelance writing—no matter the topic in this article from the July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave clues for people to find them.

Sharon Maas: On Books Finding the Right Time

Sharon Maas: On Books Finding the Right Time

Author Sharon Maas discusses the 20-year process of writing and publishing her new historical fiction novel, The Girl from Jonestown.

6 Steps to Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

6 Steps to Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

While the writing process may be an independent venture, the literary community at large is full of writers who need and want your support as much as you need and want theirs. Here, author Aileen Weintraub shares 6 steps in becoming a good literary citizen.

Daniel Paisner: On the Pursuit of a Creative Life

Daniel Paisner: On the Pursuit of a Creative Life

Journalist and author Daniel Paisner discusses the process of writing his new literary fiction novel, Balloon Dog.